The kindness of nerds

This week: strippers, scammers, Secret Santas, remote work, girlbosses, kitchen witches and stoned lobsters

While I’ve never participated myself — and now never will, I guess!! — I read with great sadness the news that Reddit effectively killed r/secretsanta after 12 long years in business. Secret Santa was one of those rare, naïve internet things that seemed unequivocally and improbably good: a service in which strangers purchased gifts for other people all over the world (!).

In some ways, r/SecretSanta was also a vision for an internet that’s radically more humane than the one we got. Not just in terms of niceness and serendipity, either: A mere eight years ago, Reddit’s monetization strategy relied, in some large part, on small commissions from gifts sold as part of Secret Santa exchanges. In other words, at the same time Mark Zuckerberg was bleeding Facebook users for their every data point, and conducting creepy secret experiments on their moods, Reddit executives were quaintly betting on … the kindness of nerds.

These days, of course, Reddit is increasingly associated with slightly more cynical, literal bets. And the company has embraced a far more realistic business model (… by which I mean, it now sells a lot of very large and obtrusive ads). But I like to envision a world where our concept of “value” looked more like Reddit’s once did. In other words, like a picture of Snoop Dogg-branded slippers, sent by Snoop Dogg, to some random woman named Erin.

P.S. I feel like it’s maybe important to disclaim, in any discussion of Nice Reddit, that Reddit is also a cesspool. I know.

P.P.S. In the limited time since I drafted this intro, a new and unofficial r/secretsanta popped up! This means I might have a shot at a 10-pound cheesecake after all.

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If you read anything this weekend

  1. The Curious Rise of Twitter Power Broker Yashar Ali,” by Peter Kiefer in Los Angeles Magazine. If you spend any time at all on Twitter, then you have surely at one point thought to yourself: “Hm! This dude Ali has a shit-ton of followers, and I have absolutely no idea what he does or who he is.” It turns out that no one really does, even his closest celebrity friends! (And if you’re wondering what he’s tweeted about this piece — he hasn’t.)

  2. The Real Zola,” by Alison P. Davis in Vulture. I love this story for many, many reasons, but this is a big one: Both its headline and its premise foil a 2015 profile by Rolling Stone’s David Kushner, which somehow turned Zola, the greatest Twitter epicist of her era, into a “petite 20-year-old beauty in a pink blouse.”

  3. The Tyranny of Time,” by Joe Zadeh in Noema. A very trippy accounting of all the ways “clock time” is actually made up, and all the reasons that is bad. Many good dinner-party factoids here, for instance — dyk that clocks aren’t actually pegged to the movement of the earth or sun anymore? Or that in the 1800s, cities *protested* to get out of regionally synchronized time schedules…?

  4. The Upcoming Remote Work Company Culture War,” and “The Work-From-Home Future Is Destroying Bosses' Brains,” by Ed Zitron in Where’s Your Ed At. Two of the better pieces I’ve read about remote work and why managers resist it. By “better” I obviously mean “consistent with my pre-existing opinions” … but if you also think the “return to work” sucks, you might be interested!

  5. Why Is Everyone So Mad At Gabbie Hanna?,” by Scaachi Koul in Buzzfeed. “While it’s hardly a feminist stance to demand that a woman be allowed to act as poorly and crudely as her male counterparts without repercussions, it certainly seems unfair.” Indeed.

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Girlboss. Kitchen witch. White girl dancing. A website that points you to random websites and a bot that stops you from doomscrolling. Ten years of data breaches in one chart. Wtf happened to Snapchat? Any modern convenience that improves your life is probably ruining someone else’s.

“A smartphone app that purports to undo the anxieties of the smartphone age.” A tiny, tiny violin for New York’s cocktail class. A brief history of rich dudes who have gone to space. E-books are one amazing scam. Turns out … people already lived in Zoom towns?? Also … paying people more money works??? Last but not least: “She eventually discontinued the practice of administering THC to lobsters.”

That’s it for this week! Until the next one. Warmest virtual regards.

— Caitlin