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.

I suppose it’s Internet karma: As an writer, I spend much of my day being a smart-ass online, so I deserve the smart-ass answers I get: “other old ppl stuff.” “HGH.” (Again with the drugs. Is it my long hair?) “Fountain of youth.” “It’s always important to ice your injuries from the inside too … 12 ounces at a time.” Jose Pistola’s Twitter account suggests “mezcal, spicy tuna guac.” In the end, my back still hurts, but all the jokes actually cheer me up. A bar told me to feel better on Twitter! Flattering!

Eventually, good advice does come my way, via the Midwest-based ex-girlfriend of a colleague. I’ve never met her. But when she tells me to “as much as possible, lie flat on the floor” and avoid couches and beds, I follow her advice. I spend the next six hours supine, watching the hell out of True Detective. I get up feeling like a new man.

And so it goes, over and over. I do find a new dentist I like, as well as a handyman. I scope out new date spots (R2L, in Two Liberty?! I would never have known!), and I try out crowdsourced coffee shops for working.

In the end, I’d say that turning over all my research and problem-solving skills to friends — and friends of friends, and people who aren’t friends but think I’m sort of funny — had its uses. But that comes as no surprise, really — people have been seeking the advice of friends since the dawn of human communication. All social media has changed is the breadth of those we get to pose our questions to. But that’s where it fails us, or at least that’s where it fails me: The sheer number of answers you get can be as paralyzing and unhelpful as having no answers (see: choosing plumbers).

The best side effect of my crowdsourcing experiment — besides knowing where to find drugs — are all the people who ended up helping out. It makes me feel loved (or at least liked). I actually think that’s key. Crowdsourcing might be mostly about the search for easy answers. But it’s also a way to bridge some of the gaps technology created in the first place. Outsourcing problems and quandaries isn’t just about being lazy: It’s about connecting, about not being alone in your moment of need. Even if the need is just what movie to see.