241 Things

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241 Things

Milda Vyšniauskaitė is a student in Interactive Media Design at the Royal Academy of Fine Art in The Hague. She programmed the Know Your Kitteh App, an app which allows you to see the real identity of your cat.

Back in the day, it was exciting enough to surf the Internet and just watch some porn, to send each other funny Youtube videos or to just read up on the most absurd articles about aliens. Presently, all of this is overshadowed: cats rule the Internet. Who needs porn when there are some cute cats to look at?

Youtube is overloaded with funny cats videos; Facebook is oversaturated with posts and photos of cats, as are 9gag and 4chan. Cats, cats, cats are everywhere. If you’re not into cats, you can forget about being popular on the Internet. Cat porn, or Catomania, is the newest and biggest trend in Internet culture.

I’m not the first and surely not the last to cover this topic. How is it that this viral phenomenon (or maybe even a 'viral' virus?) can attract so much attention? Around 2005 a phenomenon called LOLcats appeared on the Internet. It was all about funny cat pictures with some comically misspelled captions.

We can say it was the very beginning of an obsession with cats spanning the entire Internet. The very first website which was dedicated to LOLcats images was icanhas.cheezburger.com. It started as a joke between two friends and became viral. The hype spread so fast and so thoroughly that in 2007 projects like the LOLcat Bible appeared, in which the entire Bible is translated into LOLcat language. Why would someone find this entertaining enough to spend their time on?

Perhaps it’s because we’re always looking for easy distractions. Being an adult is one of the most difficult tasks in life: being responsible, working hard, trying to build relationships: all of this requires a lot of energy and brain work, so why we shouldn’t please ourselves and procrastinate while watching something both cute and funny, like, for example, LOLcats?

In 2008 digital thinker and MIT Center for Civic Media director, Ethan Zuckerman, raised a new theory on how cats (that were already occupying the internet) could disseminate revolutionary political content. It’s well known that all governments censor political information on the Internet, whether great or small- especially a country like China. It’s easy for them to block URL addresses, but that is not the case with keywords. This led to the idea to use cute pictures of cats as a tool for spreading revolutionary political content.Now this is where it becomes serious. Cats on the Internet no longer only serve for fun and entertainment, they have now become a powerful tool for spreading and hiding ideas from the government. It’s pure genius.

It might be the case that the cat hype spread over the Internet as fast as it did thanks to the many introverted people who spend large parts of their lives online. In 2013, research at Missouri University of Science and Technology proved that most of the people who spend the majority of their time online are introverted. This does make some sense. It can be easier to communicate online, which can make you feel more confident. And perhaps cats, too, appeal mostly to the introverted: there is no need to walk them and to enter the outside world.

So it might make sense that introverted cats owners who spend most of their time online have greatly helped to spread this cat culture over the web. Cats are our new pop stars. They have their own fan pages, twitter and Instagram accounts. Even mascots and t-shirts. It’s a new cat era. A cat with a sad facial expression named “grumpy cat” now has almost 7 million likes on Facebook. That means that 7 million people are united by going crazy over one cat that accidentally has a strange facial expression. A little shop in the center of The Hague even has a section with toys and souvenirs dedicated to this cat.