Memes, trolls and Dinos

By Andréa Rojas

If your parents went to university, it’s likely that they relied on a phone with a cord to make their weekend plans. For scholars of today, ‘hanging out’ isn’t just isolated to going for wings after class– it might even mean Skype chatting or tweeting. U of C undergrads, however, are finding even more ways to connect with like-minded people through the internet.

On Feb. 9, U of C students Darren Adams, A.J. Macaulay and Eric Termuende uploaded a video entitled ‘Shit U of C Doesn’t Say,’ a continuation of the popular meme that started with the 2011 YouTube video ‘Shit Girls Say’– and a parody of U of C student life.

“The people you see and interact with every day live here, go to school here, and spend all their time here,” says Termuende. “And really, these are the people we have the most things in common with . . . and [who] can really relate to what we have to say.”

In two weeks, the video– shot, edited and uploaded in four hours– has drawn over 30,000 views, already making it the third-most viewed U of C-related upload in the video-sharing website’s history.

“I think because with Facebook and with Twitter and things like that, it just blew up so fast,” says Termuende. “Say we’re connected to some 500 people, and then if each person, or even 30 people share that, and they’re all connected to 500 people, it’s out there.”

Despite consisting mostly of inside jokes that few non-U of C students would understand, national radio station CBC and media outlets in Calgary, Edmonton and Vancouver have covered the comedic short. Termuende credits this to the universality of sarcastic humour.

“Everyone wants to complain, and sarcasm is an easy way of saying what you want to say without saying it,” the Haskayne student explains. “Though we took little jabs at things here or there– I guess the Gauntlet being one of the victims– at the same time it’s all in good fun.

“We just wanted everyone to be able to laugh at it. And by everyone, I mean the 10 people we thought would see it.”

The three students were inspired a week after the inception of the Facebook page ‘University of Calgary Memes.’

“We thought, ‘You know, this is really hyped right now. If there’s a time this goes out, this is it’,” says Termuende.

‘Shit U of C Doesn’t Say’ hit 20,000 views in four days, but its growth in popularity slowed soon after.

“What’s interesting is that it blew up, it was huge, and now it’s gone again,” Termuende remarks. “It was just the hype. It was interesting for a bit– the flavour of the day, I guess– and that’s it. So, it was fun while it lasted . . . but at the same time, I guess we have to think of something else.”

While social media popularity may be instantly gratifying, its shelf life is almost momentary. LikeALittle is a self-described “flirting-facilitator platform,” and its U of C page has been live since fall 2010. The site reached its peak around January 2011, when it became one of the top five most visited LAL campus pages in the world. After this, its traffic declined by almost 45 per cent in the span of a month. Regardless, U of C-ers are still making connections with people via anonymous posts about everything from cute girls seen at the gym to questions about which Greek and Roman Studies option to take.

“I think it’s a chance for people to be like, ‘Yeah, I saw that person,’” says Fatima Ze, a second-year International Relations and Drama student who met two of her close friends through LikeALittle. “I can’t lie– people like to start drama, and they like to do it online, where they’re hidden behind a screen.”

This dark side of social media, fostered by the anonymity that the internet provides, is far from harmless. A controversial SU elections poster put up by vice-president student life candidate Hayley Wade made the front page of social news site reddit’s ‘funny’ section by the end of the first day of campaigning. Since then, it has generated over 900 comments from users across the globe, many of them potentially slanderous. The post has also drawn more attention than ever to the campus reddit sub-page, ‘ucalgary,’ created nine months ago.

“There was actually a college subreddit push five months ago by the reddit administration . . . in the infancy of the U of C reddit, that was great- it pulled in tons of people,” says Vincent St. Pierre, one of the subreddit’s moderators.

There are about 250 registered users who frequent ‘ucalgary,’ but St. Pierre estimates the number of unregistered visitors to the page to be 10 times as much, as indicated by page views. The U of C subreddit is home to posts about faculty rankings, upcoming events, and– of course– memes, which students can ‘up-vote’ or ‘down-vote’ as a way of collectively managing information appearing on the site.

“Being a commuter campus, it is already difficult to have this kind of conversation,” says St. Pierre of the U of C community. To him, the 2010 faculty amalgamation and a lack of physical space for Faculty of Arts students to connect in-person factors in to this.

“We have a lot of school spirit, it’s just that it’s all siloed,” St. Pierre remarks. “It’s all in different pockets of different areas. If you look at the Engineering Students’ Society, if you look at their events on Fridays . . . how they have those scarves for Schulich- they have a sense of culture. If you look at Haskayne, they have their four houses . . . there’s a group of 15 to 20 people who just chill out in the Political Science Association’s office.

“[reddit is] a tool that’s very useful in breaking down barriers that gets people talking with one another and sharing with one another . . . that attracts people, that interests people, and is fun and entertaining.”

Ze agrees. “When you think about it, on campus, U of C is pretty divided . . . When people can bond online, over memes and LikeALittle, we’re separating ourselves from the rest– MRU, SAIT, ACAD, et cetera. I guess it just makes people come together. Maybe it’s not school spirit, but U of C spirit. I think there’s a difference.”

The sprawling U of C campus hardly presents a lack of physical space, but finding places to communicate among a population of 30,000 is difficult. Because of this, students go to new places to talk about what’s happening in the U of C mini-universe. Although that “place” may seem like little more than information on a screen, it’s really a new way of university life.

“I don’t think . . . web culture is distinguishable from campus culture– I think they’re inextricably tied together,” says St. Pierre. “Human relationships, they tend to flow into every corridor that you can engage in. The web is just one of them.”

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