Learning the need for context from someone targeted on Reddit (@headphonaught)


I’ve just finished reading an article on ‘The Awl’ … it is entitled “The Internet Hates Me” and was written by C. D. Hermelin (published on September 18, 2013). In the article, Hermelin tells a down-right horrifying and yet wonderfully uplifting story about how he was completely misrepresented on Reddit and was the subject of abuse before he successfully intervened. Hermelin is a writer and, as a means of making-ends-meet, he took a Royal Safari typewriter to the Highline in Manhattan and offered unique one-of-a-kind self-penned stories for ‘pay what you want’ … as he puts it:

“I moved to New York City, and I needed to make money. I wasn’t having luck getting a job. It’s a common tale. My solution was to grab my typewriter that I bought at a yard sale for 10 dollars and bring it to a park. I’d write stories for people, on the spot—I wouldn’t set a price. People could pay me whatever they wanted. I knew that I had the gift of writing creatively, very quickly, and my anachronistic typewriter (and explanatory sign) would be enough to catch the eye of passersby. Someone might want something specific; they might just want a story straight from my imagination. I was prepared for either situation.”

Here was someone doing something … making something happen … creating and participating in life. He instantly became my kind of chap … someone I’d love to talk to over a coffee. The thing is … without this story … without this context … his particular set up could be misinterpreted. A picture of him with his typewriter on his lap appeared on the front page of Reddit … along with the headline “Spotted on the Highline”. It caused a bit of a storm … as Hermelin puts it:

“It’s a pretty good picture, I thought. Although my shoes are beat up and missing their laces, my hands are frozen in a bizarre position, and that day was too hot for clothes that photograph well, I look deep in thought. Unfortunately, the two cute girls I was writing a story for are cropped out. And so was my sign. My sign said: “One-of-a-kind, unique Stories While You Wait. Sliding Scale – Donate What You Can!” Without the sign, without the context, I definitely look like someone who is a bit insane. That’s how I thought of it, before I clicked to look at the hundreds of replies; I figured people were probably wondering why I would bring my typewriter to a park. And when I started reading the comments, I saw most people had already decided that I would bring my typewriter to the park because I’m a “f**king hipster.” Someone with the user handle “S2011” summed up the thoughts of the hive mind in 7 words: “Get the f**k out of my city.””

Without the context Hermelin faced a torrent of abuse. It turns out that ‘the hipster’ is the one social grouping that its acceptable to hate on … and the Redittors poured on the hate. What Hermelin did next was not only brave but the honourable thing to do … he replied … he commented … he told his side of the story … and what happened next was remarkable:

“Luckily, people agreed with me. After I posted, the message board thread’s climate changed immediately. Not unlike real life, people were complimentary and kind. Many people deleted their mean comments — one person was so embarrassed for threatening to smash my typewriter that he apologised to me, and then went through and started trying to make other haters apologise.”

The rest of the story is equally remarkable and it makes for a good read. Hermelin is a talented writer and I wish him every success for the future … I also thank him for making me think about context … and particularly context from a Christian perspective. When we see something that offends us, do we always look to the context before reacting? If we are honest … probably not. If we go looking for a hipster to hate on, we will find one. Similarly, when we see something that encourages us or supports our ‘truth’, do we always look for the context before posting to everyone and their granny … again, if we are honest … probably not. In a world where the medium is the message, context is everything. Are we letting the myopia of our own opinions crop out the truths that are inconvenient to us? Not all the hipsters we see are truly hipsters … and this has been eloquently detailed by Hermelin … and even if they are a ‘hipster’ they are also someone’s son or daughter, brother or sister, maybe even father or mother. The thing with context is it adds perspective … and, in the case of people, it adds humanity. We should always seek the humanity in and of the other. The problem with this notion, however, is that it takes our black and white world and adds numerous shades of grey. The baddies are no longer so evil and the goodies are no longer so virtuous … regardless what we are told or initially thought. We have to think. We have to choose. We need to work. We have a responsibility, as we live out our faith both online and offline, to see beyond the obvious or the presented … we need to dig deeper and not go with the flow, regardless of how appealing it may be. We need to work for it rather than happily let others guide us along. Tx

About headphonaught

Follower of Jesus. Husband. Father. Son. Photographer. Co-host of the Something Beautiful podcast. Advocate for independent music & awesomeness. Founder of the weareallghosts netlabel and the circumambient podcast.