x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Surf the weird wide web

It's hard not to get hooked on memes, those silly little pictures or videos on the internet that are so stupid they're funny.

It's hard not to get hooked on memes. You know, those silly little pictures or videos on the internet that are so stupid they're funny. Luckily, there are many internet memes you can enjoy with your co-workers or your kids. If you're new to memes, you'll want to start with Lolcats - one of the most beloved of all internet phenomena. Just pictures of cats with funny captions, Lolcats are hugely popular. Reminiscent of Gary Larson's The Far Side, the captions are supposed to represent what the cats are thinking and are written with intentionally bad spelling and grammar. They reflect cat psychology as humans would believe it - craving cheeseburgers, taunting the dog and delighting in our foibles.

The best place to find Lolcats is at www.icanhascheezburger.com. Not only are there thousands of Lolcats, there's an application that lets you create your own. With the success of this site, the owners - a couple from Hawaii who prefer to go by "Cheeseburger" and "Veggieburger"- have expanded. They now own a number of linked-together sites, including www.ihasahotdog.com, which is like Icanhascheezburger but with dogs, and www.engrish.com, which features bizarre real-world examples of poorly translated English. M's favourite is the girl wearing a jacket emblazoned with a logo reading "vigorous throw-up!"

Even more fun is www.failblog.org, which documents extreme cases of bad luck or bad planning. You'll see things like a video of a singer falling off stage, jumping back on only to continue lip synching as though nothing had happened. Luckily, these sites have a link at the top that blocks out anything that isn't suitable for all ages. All of the best stuff survives. If you're looking for something a little more extreme, but still safe, then look up "Diet Coke" and "Mentos" (together) on www.youtube.com, and you'll get over 9,000 results. But add "champagne" to the search terms and you'll get a three-minute video of an exquisitely choreographed series of soda explosions that put Busby Berkeley to shame. Is it worth watching? More than 9.5 million people thought so.

There are lots of videos on YouTube that have become required reading for understanding digital culture. Look up "dramatic chipmunk", "sneezing panda" or "kung fu baby" and you'll see some of the most beloved memes. To make sure you've got the right one, only open those with five million or more views. Or try "numa numa". Of the more than 100,000 videos that show up, one has 30 million views. It shows an overweight man lip synching to a song - Dragostea din tei by O-Zone, an obscure Romanian pop group - making the song itself an international hit.

Most of these videos last only a few seconds. There are other memes, though, that pose a greater threat to your time and productivity. Two particularly addictive memes can be found at www.lostfrog.org and www.homestarrunner.com. Lost Frog is a series of artists' takes on a real lost poster a child posted after his pet frog went missing. Every click shows a different - often hilarious - interpretation of the original. It sounds cruel, but it isn't.

A series of relentlessly silly short cartoons, the adventures of Homestar Runner are hard to stop watching. They're so popular that their creators have turned down multimillion-dollar offers to bring the show to television. But that's part of the beauty of memes - they're not on television. You can access them at work, on a plane, wherever you have internet access. They're not constricted by advertisers, time schedules or any other rules. And that makes them more fun.