In Celebration of the Internet’s True Angels

Culture Toilet%20Repair 173019940 Tech

The internet is made up of givers and takers. The vast majority of users appear to be the latter: They click through instruction videos on how to fix broken toilets, pore over reviews before investing in air purifiers, and are delighted to find that someone has uploaded a clip of their favorite old children’s TV show. The givers are the ones who make all of this possible: They film themselves fixing toilets, write 1,000-word reviews of air purifiers, and digitize their VHS tapes before sharing the results with the world. Without the givers, the internet would not be anywhere near as helpful or useful a place—without the givers, many toilets would still be broken.

Sure, pretty much all of us give something online from time to time—a recommendation on a community Facebook page, a review on a new restaurant’s TripAdvisor, a reply to a “Does anyone remember…” query tweeted into the void. Yet some people log on every day and give and give and give—they restore people’s old family photos for free, they spend hours tracking down the manufacturer of a little boy’s lost teddy bear, they leave detailed reviews for dull but useful products. What motivates these people? Why are they so helpful? What keeps them giving when the rest of us just take, take, take? WIRED tracked them down to ask.

The Finder

Someone wanted a vintage cooking pot—someone else wanted a specific style of wrap dress. Another person wanted help identifying an artist, while yet another was looking for an obscure set of unique, bark-textured drinking glasses. Over the course of one December week—a perfectly ordinary week—forensic art student Michelle Spalding helped them all. Almost every day, Spalding responds to requests on the subreddit Help Me Find, a place where people beg for help sourcing things they can’t find anywhere else online. “HOLY CRAP HOWWWW did you find that so fast, I’m amazed. Thank you!!!” wrote one user after Spalding linked to the exact drinking glasses they wanted. “You’re welcome,” was all she replied.

Spalding has been a Redditor for roughly nine years; as well as posting on Help Me Find, she also likes to solve mysteries on What Is This Thing, a subreddit where people post pictures of unusual objects they’ve stumbled upon. Two years ago, Spalding was able to help a Redditor identify a ring they’d found in their backyard—it was an almost 200-year-old “mourning ring” that once commemorated a lost loved one. “Dude, in the last 24 hours you correctly identified: a dog’s breed, a cat’s breed, a single deer bone, a very specific men’s suit, this Victorian mourning ring, and gave well-founded advice on drawing tablets,” one commenter replied. “Don’t get me wrong: I’m very impressed. But, who are you?”

Colorado-based Spalding is in her fifties and is a “compulsive” watcher of Antiques Roadshow. She collects antiques herself, and is an artist who decided to return to studying during the pandemic. “If I have a window of time where I would be goofing off online, watching videos or something, my way to relax is to go on those Reddit forums and browse around and Google around to try and find things,” she says. “It’s kind of like a treasure hunt.”

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