Two days ago, this New York Times piece put into words many of the insecurities and narcissistic leanings towards spouting bullshit that I experience on a daily basis.
We live in an era of media overstimulation, especially those of us that consider ourselves avid curators of popular culture. Because we do not have the time to consume every book, every film, every hour of Mad Men, we follow and like people that we trust and riff off of their opinions in everyday conversation.
I feel this pressure everyday. I actively pretend to have seen A Clockwork Orange and Donnie Darko when asked, because it’s easier and more agreeable. I tell people I consider The Godfather: Part II one of the greatest films ever made, even though I have never seen it in its entirety.
The article got me thinking of other ways that society has begun to eat its own tail thanks to Internet-related information-overload. On one of my regularly scheduled nights of intimacy with the Internet, I found my story.
This is a picture from my high school’s year book in 2010. Sean and Stephanie graduated from Henderson High School with me in 2010, and since then have carved themselves an interesting piece of cultural meme-space within the collective consciousness. Thanks to Sean’s quip and Stephanie’s compliance with a good joke, they are now the stars of multiple online articles with click-baity names:
- 30 Inspiring Yearbook Quotes For Graduating Seniors
- The 20 Most Important Yearbook Pages Of All Time
- The 35 Hardest Things About Taking A Picture On Picture Day
- The 100 Funniest Yearbook Quotes Ever
- 24 Funny Yearbook Quotes
- My Sister’s Friend Burned Her via Yearbook Quote
If you Google “greatest yearbook quotes of all time”, Stephanie and Sean are featured in three of the first ten hyperlinks you are presented with. If you search “Yearbook” on BuzzFeed, they appear three separate times.
Further, there are some students with quotes so spectacular, they appear even more frequently than Sean and Stephanie.
Have you met Rowdy Negro on the Internet before?
How about self-deprecating Shane?
Or perhaps self-aware Jason Distant?
All of these students were found in almost every list I looked at while writing this article. If you have been bored on the Internet during graduation season, there is a pretty good chance you have seen them all multiple times as well. They are all evidence that the Internet is culling content from its own history; all of these different outlets are cashing in on the same joke.
It’s not a good or a bad thing, it just means that the Internet has collectively decided that “funny yearbook quotes” leads to clicks. The same thing has happened with “maps of your states favorite (anything)” and “cute answers that little kids write on tests.”
I don’t know where this leads to or what this means or if it means anything at all. Ideas have been recycled in popular culture since it first began existing. Shakespeare might have stolen plays. Pat Boone definitely stole songs. But I am concerned that this is different. I fear the control that the Internet has thanks to its knowledge of what we like and follow and favorite. This metadata could lead to the Internet knowing exactly what we want to see before we see it. It could lead to a world where new ideas are halted before they begin, because there is an old idea that is already established as marketable to the masses.
It is possible this has already happened.
We have the ability to follow those on Twitter who share our views and then mirror back those views in 140-characters-or-less so that when we refresh our feed we receive some sense of “Yes! Exactly! This guy knows what I’m talking about.” This reflection of ideas happens on every side of every issue. A twitter feed tailored to your personal beliefs will always be there to assure you that your views are right, whether you are pro-life or pro-choice, a truther, a racist, a democrat, a republican.
The Internet has given us access to more information than any generation before us, but the paradox of choice leads us to mostly information that we already agree with. Then we take that information and post it on our walls so we can show off our views to our like-minded friends and our like-minded friends can agree with us.
Regardless, Sean and Stephanie are now minor Internet celebrities. Their images have been shared on countless walls and feeds of people whom they’ve never met, which I find fascinating, as that is my ultimate goal as a writer in 2014.
Part of me wishes high school Tyler had thought of a funnier quote.
Another part of me is happy that I have the choice not to share it with you. My quote is locked away in the privacy of physical copies of Henderson’s 2010 Yearbook, where I think it will stay.
That is, unless I become famous enough to be featured in a BuzzFeed article.