Should you take life advice from Reddit?

Have a vexing problem that you can't solve on your own? Ask the online community! The results will be ... varied.

Have a vexing problem that you can't solve on your own? Ask the online community! The results will be ... varied. Photo: Getty

I am sometimes very indecisive. (Sometimes very? See what I mean! I can’t even state with vigour that I’m indecisive.)

I’ve often stood in change rooms for extremely lengthy periods of time as sales assistants enquire, “Are you okay in there?” with genuine concern creeping into their voice. I’ve ummed and ahhed over menus in restaurants more times than I can remember. And when it comes to actual big life decisions that don’t just involve pad thai versus pad see ew, I litter my computer’s desktop with Notepad documents listing pros and cons until I finally come to a decision.

So I can see the appeal of crowdsourcing help when it comes to living your ideal life.  In his 2004 book, The Wisdom of Crowds, journalist and author James Surowiecki argued that the aggregation of information from groups can lead to better decisions than can be made by any single member of the group. It’s the same principle that you see on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire when they ‘Ask the Audience’. Often the collective wisdom of the group points in the right direction.

One site that’s been harnessing this collective intelligence is AskReddit, a branch of the immensely popular site Reddit, a sort of modern-day bulletin board of user-generated content (it bills itself as ‘the front page of the internet’). If you aren’t familiar with Reddit, it’s much like Longfellow’s little girl with a little curl – when it is good it is very good indeed, but when it is bad it is horrid. Reddit readers have raised tens of thousands of dollars for a Kenyan orphanage and interviewed Barack Obama, but also wrongly identified people as suspects in the Boston Marathon bombings and objectified women and underage girls in the most revolting ways.


AskReddit is one of the more curious corners of the site, where users can ask questions philosophical (“What single word could sum up your whole life?”), ridiculous (“If you were a ghost, what would you do?”) and virtually nonsensical (“Why are pre-90's boobs different from 90's and 00's boobs?”). The multitude of answers range from the blatantly facetious to the actually helpful. But as per “the wisdom of crowds” is it any good at figuring out how to better your life? Here are a few of its pearls of brilliance/stupidity....

What are some good money saving tips?

“You take your credit card, put it in a milk jug [carton, with water] and freeze it. When you need to buy something, you have to thaw out the ice. It doesn't happen instantly so it gives you time to think if you really need something.”

“Have a funnel in your kitchen. Whenever you have cereal and milk, pour all extra milk back into the jug. The milk lasts longer and even may taste a little more sugary depending on what kind of cereal it was.”

Mmm... sugar milk, drink of the moneyed classes. I think from this we can safely say the Reddit community is not filled with millionaires. I also hate that credit card tip, if you really can’t control your urge to splurge without literally freezing access to your monetary assets, you probably shouldn’t have a credit card at all. Also is this poster not aware of the effects of running hot water on ice?

“Typically, why do girls want ‘empathy’ when they talk about their problems rather than a solution?”

“She doesn't want help. She would rather handle it herself. She just needs someone to talk to and comfort her through the stress of solving her own problems.”

“What seems like a good solution to a guy doesn't always sound good to a girl.”

“Girls are typically emotionally driven, while men are typically more logical. When girls bring up a problem, they want to share emotions. When guys share problems, they want proposed solutions.”

Oh, yay, this Mars Venus baloney again. Girls’ brains run on emotion juice and boys’ brains run on the cold hard oil of logic. If I asked my boyfriend to assist me with a problem and he kept talking about how he understood my feelings but didn’t actually help me fix it, I would strain an eyelid from all the dirty looks I would be giving him. Faily fail.

What is one small lifestyle change you can make to be healthier?

“Walk as much as you can.”


“Learn to cook. You can cook healthier meals and it'll save you money, too.”

Huh, turns out Reddit has more sensible health advice than The Biggest Loser.  This I can endorse. Good work, Redditors.

So, after trawling Reddit for hours in the name of research I can say that it seems like a microcosm of the larger population (though admittedly “BOOBS!!1!1” seems to be the answer to AskReddit questions much more frequently than seems statistically probable). Some advice is good, some advice is garbage. It is extremely addictive to see what people will admit or reveal about themselves when given anonymity though.

Nevertheless, I can’t really see myself turning to AskReddit for advice on how to live my life, given that I already have advice from my friends and family that I routinely ignore. But next time I need to know what I should do if I become a ghost, I know where to go...


  • My ex was a huge Redditor and got me onto the site. I think it needs to be taken with a grain of salt.

    I found that largely, the main type of redditor was a mid-twenty to mid-thirty white male someone (usually an Atheist) and each has the impression that they are the most brilliant mind the Internet has ever seen.

    Some of them can be unjustifiably arrogant and rude.

    Having said that... there are some that give great advice as well. So I guess like anything on the internet, it needs to be taken with a grain of salt... If you've got a thick enough skin to endure the trolls (and there is trolling) then I recommend it.

    If not, best to stick to Facebook and ask people who know you for advice.

    Date and time
    June 04, 2013, 10:00AM
    • Like Adrian above said, the demographics of Reddit, and particularly r/Askreddit, massively cloud the answers there. Reddit is chock full of arrogant, idealistic, male, college kids who "know" the answers and use the word 'just' a lot. For them, the world is simple and therefore all their solutions are simple too.

      If you go in search of more niche subreddits you can get better, more informed answers. These answers become very susceptible to self selection bias though. If you ask for diet advice in r/keto, every answer is going to be shaped by that mindset. The same question in r/fitness will get you a different answer because you're asking different people.

      Reddit (generally) is also heavily left leaning - it's a function of the main demo again - so political or moral answers will be framed by that fact. Reddit champions the usual left/progressive positions on all the hot-button topics - pro-abortion, pro-gay marriage, anti-corporate, anti-mining, heavily green. It's not bad, but it means the answers sway a certain way.

      Location based subreddits (such as r/Melbourne) can be really good for sharing info about events, places, and general goings on. The demos are still biased towards youngish males, but the tone is less full of bluster and the word 'just' appears less.

      Date and time
      June 04, 2013, 11:13AM
      • Reddit is a pit of rape apologists and crazy men's rights activists who truly hate women. I'm not kidding, there's huge threads there devoted to letting men discuss their experiences as rapists and so on. It's truly awful. I wouldn't advise touching it with a ten foot pole.

        Date and time
        June 04, 2013, 4:00PM
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