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Alturism in droves.

My family back home is experiencing aftershocks, rolling blackouts, and possible food shortage. Yet I’m supposed to be more concerned with final exams…reddit, this is how I feel right now.

The above post made it to the front page of Reddit.com during the recent earthquake crisis in Japan. One commenter, californiasquirrel, was in a similar situation. His bedridden Grandmother was stuck in Yokohama and they could not get in contact with her. “I’m dead worried about my friends, but even more worried about my grandma in Yokohama. She can’t move from her bed without help, she can’t go grocery shopping at all” … “We’re freaking out, but there’s nothing we can do.” – californiasquirrel . A random Redditor, OtisDElevator, responded later that day with “I live in Kawasaki Bro’. PM me with grannies address (in Yokohama). I’m 10 mins by train.” … “I can’t guarantee that the local trains will be running tomorrow, but if they are, I’ll make every effort to get to granny with at least some supplies. Why would I do this? – Today you. Tomorrow me.” – OtisDElevator.

Food delivered from OtisDElevator to californiasquirrel's Grandmother

I have been a part of the Reddit community for four years and have witnessed an absurd amount of random kindness. It should be noted that Reddit is not a social networking site. You can ‘friend’ people but all you know is their username – no avatar/picture/age/sex/bio/wall. Reddit provides a bare-bones form of online conversation. Reddit admins are heavily interested in fostering communities, but the users are granted a high degree of anonymity. People often create ‘throw away accounts’ to post intimate personal details. This mindset towards online community is in stark contrast with Facebook. Reddits structure echo’s the founder of 4chan’s sentiments, saying it allows people to interact in a “completely unvarnished, unfiltered, raw way.” – Poole

With this in mind the number of random kind acts on Reddit make less sense. People are kind toward their friends because there is a chance of reciprocation. In Connected Christakis and Fowler note “we would rather give a gift to a friend who will never repay us than to give a gift to a stranger who will” (299). Christakis and Fowler devised an experiment to test how altruism spreads through strangers. They found that altruism spreads through people if someone is initially altruistic. “When a person has been treated well by someone, she goes on to treat other well in the future” (298). Once someone commits an altruistic act it spreads like a lazy wildfire through the members of the community.

A few good things Redditors have done:

  • Sent a man turning 90 five UPS trucks worth of letters and gifts.
  • Bought a disabled man a new wheelchair.
  • Raised $500,000 to donorschoose.org.
  • Helped pay for a Reddit members mothers funeral costs.
  • Bought an expensive hearing aid that gave someone back the ability to hear.

(voltier.com)

These are examples of people coming together as a group. There are also examples of person-to-person acts. Redditor Wharthog3 posted a picture of the toys he had sitting on-top of his computer screen at work. emorrow64 asked “Is that a CRT monitor?”. emorrow64 responded “Why yes, yes it is. My boss is a tight ass.” Wharthog3 then bought emorrow64 a shiny new 22″ flatscreen monitor, to which emorrow64 replied “Oh wow. You are seriously the most awesome stranger I know.” (here).

 

In another example, a Redditor complained about receiving no tip after delivering 30 pizzas at 1a.m. Someone sent him $30 (here). Another user just received $1000 from a lurker who saw he was in a bad way (here). One Redditor posted asking for advice on how to eat for two weeks on $25, and someone bought him 3 pizzas (here). The examples are numerous and the list goes on. Altruism has been established as a part of the Reddit community and it continues to spread throughout it.

Reddit also has sub-communities centered around helping people. People can post to /r/Suicide Watch expressing their feelings and others help talk them down. Lives have been saved because of this community. There is also /r/Relationship_Advice where people help each other fix problems and get over broken hearts. Smokers who want to quit head to /r/Stop Smoking/, a community of like-minded individuals helping each other quit. As Christakis and Fowler say: “The ability to connect to others online could therefore be helpful socially, providing a degree of support and human contact in regular, daily life that might not otherwise be possible.” (283). Another active community of 10,000 are losing weight together at /r/LoseIt. These weakly connected people are acting as support mechanisms for each other.

I list all of these acts because it shows that kindness is a part of Reddit culture. If the first few do-gooders never existed perhaps Reddit would not have become littered with kindness. Each good dead helps sustain a culture of alturism (305). The sub-communities mentioned above were created by people who want to help others and themselves. If support systems do not exist in an individuals real-life they can now connect to supportive people online. Talking to people who are going through, or have gone through the same plight helps. Reddit admins unwittingly created a space for kind people to be help each other.