My Crowdsourced Life

Who needs self-reflection when you have Twitter? One man spends a week living off the collective wisdom of friends, followers and total strangers to see if social media does, in fact, hold all the answers.

Crowd Question #1:

So does anyone on the Internet have any opinions on True Detective or House of Cards?

I figure I’ll start with an easy one. Roughly 95 percent of the people I follow on Twitter can’t stop tweeting about True Detective — HBO’s police anthology starring Matthew McConaughey — or House of Cards, the Kevin Spacey political drama. I may frame my question like a smart-ass, but I get lots of serious replies. Seriously passionate replies.

True Detective is either the best show since The Wire or an overrated ham-fest with paper-thin female characters. McConaughey is either the new Greatest Actor of Our Time or a hack who should stick to fare like Surfer, Dude. House of Cards is a pale imitation of the superior British original, or I should binge-watch it immediately.

Eventually, True Detective pulls into an easy lead, so I watch the first season. I honestly think my crowd has been overenthused: Like a lot of cable shows, it’s more style than substance. Then again, I’ve watched worse — I tuned into Entourage for a long time — and on Sunday nights, I don’t need much to be entertained. I’ll say this: True Detective has the best interrogation scenes since Homicide: Life on the Street. Also, I probably wouldn’t have been interested in a Matthew McConaughey show without the crowd’s endorsement. So … score one for crowdsourcing.

Crowd Question #2:

What movie should I see right now?

Buoyed by my TV success, I decide to try the crowd with a Sunday matinee. I have my choice of Best Picture nominees, yet nearly everyone on Twitter tells me to see The Lego Movie. (Everyone but my mom; she tweets Dallas Buyers Club. What is with Twitter and McConaughey?) I walk to Riverview, where The Lego Movie is showing, then poll my crowd again to decide 3-D versus 2-D. I’m glad when the regular version wins (though I may have biased the results by saying up front that 3-D doesn’t really do anything for me).

I have to give my crowd credit for a film well chosen. I’ve just spent 90 minutes in a movie — a kids’ movie that’s basically a huge commercial — and found it delightful. Since I would never have chosen this one without Twitter, I pay it forward with a tweet about how cute the film is.

Crowd Question #3:

Where can I find a plumber? Like, now?

Screw the movies: Shit just got real. I come home one freezing night to find a huge puddle of water in front of my fridge. The pipe leading to my ice machine and water dispenser has burst; water is literally spraying out. I have no idea how to even turn the water off in my place, much less stop the geyser in my kitchen. So … social media to the rescue?

Days after I’m wading through my kitchen, phone in hand, it occurs to me that the questions people ask online are more than questions: They’re little windows into their lives, revealing at least as much as any 140-character dispatch ever could. Believe me, there’s no editing for the sake of wit or eloquence when it’s late at night and your kitchen’s a swimming pool.

What amazes me is how eager people are to help at 9 p.m. on a Thursday: Some strangers on Twitter share stories of plumbing horrors and which companies to avoid; others chime in with recent success stories of burst pipes fixed in an hour. A person I really only know on Twitter offers to call his cousin, a plumber, if I’m stuck. A Philly police officer sends me a message suggesting I call the guy who helped him and his girlfriend out a few months back: “He’s crazy, but he did a great job.” (I wonder: How crazy do you have to be for a cop to call you that?)

All of this eagerness to help is, of course, why crowdsourcing works at all: People want to answer you. I might not always be great at asking questions, but I do always answer them if I think I can help. Studies conducted on crowdsourcing indicate that people tend to answer questions more when there’s an intrinsic value in it for them. The value here is internal: Having answers feeds the ego (I’m smart!) and the soul (I help people!). And it takes all of 14 seconds.