I want to marry Jonah Peretti. Why? Because he just found a way to rationalize why we look at hundreds of pictures of kittens each day on the Internet during his keynote at TechCrunch Disrupt NY 2013.
“Cats on the web aren’t about the cats,” said Peretti. “It’s about being human.”
Pictures of kittens, and dogs on their hind legs, and baby monkeys and teacup piggies are adorable. Duh. But it’s not about cuteness. Our obsession with photos of animals comes down to our humanity, he explained. The reason we choose to buy and sell dogs and cats and keep them in our homes, feed them, and speak to them like they’re human counterparts is because we see a small piece of ourselves in them.
They are alive, they feel, they see and hear and smell. They get hungry. They get happy and they get sad. In the end, animals elicit an emotional reaction, whether we like it or not, because we can relate to them.
Peretti explained that emotion is part of being a human, and if you don’t feel emotion, you’re probably not a very normal human. It’s like the replicant test from Blade Runner.
But why is this even important? Well, for one, social media isn’t just about gaming the system. It’s about emotion.
We use social media to project our version of social reality and maintain a virtual identity. Peretti referred specifically to a picture of a left-handed artist’s hand that was shared millions of times on BuzzFeed. It wasn’t a particularly interesting picture — it just showed the pencil lead smeared across his hand in true left-handed fashion.
“Only 10 percent of people are left-handed, so this problem doesn’t affect that many people,” said Peretti. “But this photo was shared so many times because it involves identity. Left-handed people feel something for this picture.”
Just like we project these pieces of our identity (and thus, our emotions) into the Internet on a daily basis, we also consume social media content based on emotion as well.