Reddit for academics

I’ve finally figured out reddit, and it’s a great tool for academics. You should really give it a try.

Over the past few years I’ve dabbled in reddit, failing to really ‘get it’. I thought it was just a place for silly GIFs and celebrity AMAs (Ask Me Anything), but I was wrong. It’s a place to share links to interesting internet stuff, but more importantly it’s a place where these links can be discussed. So if like me you’ve tried it before and failed to grasp it, or if you fancy giving it a go, here’s my suggested route in.

  1. Read this.
  2. Sign-up. Choose a username. You can remain anonymous if you wish.
  3. Go to reddit.com/subreddits and unsubscribe from any stupid subreddits to which you’ve been automatically subscribed.
  4. Go and find some subreddits to join. For academics I suggest academicpublishing, DepthHub and Scholar. And if you’re a fellow health economist, try academiceconomics, Economics, healthcare and HealthEconomics.
  5. Have a look at your homepage. By this stage it should be full of articles that interest you. Follow the links. Vote-up the ones you like. Join the discussion by commenting on them.
  6. Take a look at your preferences. They can alter the experience somewhat.
  7. Head over to metareddit.com to find more subreddits you might like.
  8. If you use Chrome, download the reddit companion.
  9. Start submitting your own links and comments to subreddits and watch the discussion unfold. You can submit links to academic papers, blogs, silly pictures… whatever you like!

A word of warning. DO NOT use reddit exclusively as a means of self-promotion. You will be Shadow Banned, as I have been. Stick to the rule of thumb of no more than 1 in 10 of your link submissions being some way self-promotional. The number of links you can submit is, in some secretive way, defined by your ‘karma’. You get karma by posting links and comments that other people like. Just be helpful and nice and you won’t fall foul of the reddiquette police.

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Contradictions in privacy

In the xkcd comic, I’d be the nihilist; I don’t attach much value to my own privacy. Regardless of whether or not I choose to enforce it, I should have the right to privacy. But people who do wish to enforce their right unfortunately find themselves in the minority, and this is a problem. Because the vast majority of people are like me and will happily share their photos with Facebook, their internet history with Google and absolutely everything with the NSA (whoever they are), the maintenance of privacy is made almost impossible.

Though I’m not willing to expend much time or effort maintaining my own privacy (and it appears I’m not the only one), I do still have concerns about the erosion of privacy more generally and the apathy of people like me. See the TED talk at the bottom of this page for some good reasons. In the UK, 62% of internet users use FacebookYou needn’t be a crypto nut to know that using Facebook is a very efficient way to forego your right to privacy. If people wish to engage in activities that the majority of the population does, like join Facebook or use a mobile phone, they are given little choice but to jeopardise their own privacy. Many internet companies depend heavily on the use of our data, and because the majority of people are willing to share their data freely, the companies needn’t offer individuals the option to maintain a good level of privacy. But what would a life be like without Google or Apple or Microsoft or Facebook? Great, probably, but that’s not the point. People value these services and much of modern life depends on them. It’s easy to see how maintaining one’s privacy could result in social exclusion and have implications for one’s career. Why should we have to become the savage to save our right to privacy?

The way I see it is that my apathy imposes an externality on others; increasing the cost to those who value their privacy whether they choose to use privacy-jeopardising services or not: by decreasing the services’ protection of privacy if they do, and by entrenching the use of such services as a social norm if they don’t. The erosion of privacy is more costly to society than to the individual. I don’t know what the solution is, but it will surely have to come from a paternalistic state. Proper allocation of property rights might not be enough. There’d have to be serious regulation. Or you could take the incentives route. You could tax me, for one. Or tax the companies. By sharing my data with the world, Google et al are denying those concerned about their privacy the right to engage in almost-ubiquitous activities of modern society. Attaching a price to my private data, a tax for every nugget of information they share – regardless of whether I have given them permission or not – may discourage them from doing it quite so much.

“In fact,” said Mustapha Mond, “you’re claiming the right to be unhappy.”

“All right then,” said the Savage defiantly, “I’m claiming the right to be unhappy.”

“Not to mention the right to grow old and ugly and impotent; the right to have syphilis and cancer; the right to have too little to eat; the right to be lousy; the right to live in constant apprehension of what may happen to-morrow; the right to catch typhoid; the right to be tortured by unspeakable pains of every kind.”

There was a long silence.

“I claim them all,” said the Savage at last.

– Aldous Huxley, Brave New World

#AppIdea – TipWell

I hate tipping. At best it holds down wages; at worst it’s unfair and discriminatory. But society pressures me to tip. I don’t want to look cheap. The solution – TipWell.

Instead of your money going to the waitress or the taxi driver, it goes to charity. Let’s take the example of a meal in a restaurant. Here’s how TipWell should work:

  1. Your bill arrives: £46.20 total.
  2. You get your phone out and open TipWell. You select ‘restaurant’.
  3. Using your location, the phone figures out which restaurant you’re at. You then take a look at your bill and see your waitress’s name was Deirdre, so you type ‘Deirdre’ into the appropriate box. There’s also the opportunity to leave a little message. The app records the time and date of your visit.
  4. You input the total bill amount and select the percentage you’d like to tip; 10%, as is customary in the UK.
  5. You select which charity you’d like your money to go to; let’s say, Amnesty International.
  6. Using PayPal, you complete your payment of £4.62 to Amnesty International.
  7. Waiters and patrons alike then log on to the TipWell website and build profiles for themselves. Patrons can see how much they have tipped, waiters can see how much they’ve earned for charity. They can also see messages left by diners.
  8. Everybody in the world stops tipping. Fewer people want to be waiters as they know they won’t get tips. Restaurateurs have to pay their staff more.

Somebody please build this.