The Man Behind the Meme: Where Distraction Thrives

By Susan Sun

Faraz Noor Shaikh, creator of the UC San Diego Memes Facebook page, describes the importance of memes in creating laughter and a community feel that builds friendships and gets you through the tough times.

On an average day in the midst of Nov. 2016, Faraz Noor Shaikh created what has now become a community.

With three to four thousand people joining within the first three weeks and around 18,000 members people as of today, Shaikh was unable to anticipate the magnitude of the crowd that his small idea would attract.

This idea? Put simply, it is the UCSD Facebook meme page, more commonly known as “UCSD Memes for Sleep Deprived Tritons” — a page where fellow Tritons can gather to share a good laugh or inside jokes.

Meet Faraz Shaikh, the third-year computer science Marshall College student who created the page. Although eventually turning into something quite big, the meme page’s origins were quite humble.

“Initially, I was writing an essay and I decided to take a break,” Shaikh said, “So I went on Facebook during that break. And I was on the Berkeley meme page and I thought, ‘does UCSD even have a meme page’? So I looked it up and we had some meme thing that wasn’t really popular, so I made one — just for kicks and giggles. I never expected it to blow up in this way.”

The meme page’s simple origin reflects the very thing that makes it popular — its relatability. Just like how many can connect to Shaikh’s experience — being distracted by Facebook in the midst of an essay — are memes popular because they provide a feeling of connectivity among students. From Eggers tags to raccoon reacts, memes have contributed to the culture of UCSD in a very tangible way.

“I’ve seen people in my lecture halls, like seven or eight people sitting together looking at the meme page right in front of me. And they’ll be laughing at memes together,” Shaikh remarked. “When I see that happening I feel happy — I feel like, ‘wow, I’m bringing laughter into their lives.’ … Generally, the atmosphere at this campus is like Week 3 hits and you get very serious, very depressed because of midterms. So I feel like through the meme page you have this portal to forgetting about your [worries].”

It is this sense of unity that gets at the heart of the meme page. In the increasingly internet-centered world, memes have now become the new expression of friendship. Rather than merely chatting through private messaging, tagging friends in memes acts as a public way of showing someone that you are thinking of them and that you want to share this “experience” with them.

For meme creators as well, memes are more than just funny pictures. Enter Nick Lin, a second-year data science student from Revelle. One of the admins on the UCSD meme page, Lin gained a reputation for being one of the more notable meme creators, especially for being the one who began the “raccoon craze.” For him, memes have not only been a way to show off his comedic talent, but have also served as an outlet for expression.

“I originally posted stuff because I thought it was funny, because my background was actually stand-up. I used that talent for the memes,” Lin remarked. “I started off standup comedy in high school senior year. It was basically something to help me overcome my public speaking fear, which I still kind of have … you kind of figure out what people find funny and what people don’t find funny through your standup. The similarities are that you need to find what people can relate to. I think that’s the main goal of comedy, being like ‘oh, I’ve experienced this somehow’ or ‘I’ve experienced something similar to this.’ And then you laugh at yourself.”

So what exactly do these memes consist of? For those who have been on the page since its beginning, the meme page has seen a flurry of diverse topics. From the time that Professor Eggers joined the page and was continuously tagged in posts to the battles between STEM versus non-STEM majors to the more recent memes about the transit situation, this page is constantly being updated with new and current content. In a way, it is this very feature that makes the meme page unique. With the freedom to post about nearly anything, the meme page has brought an awareness to certain issues that affect the students of UCSD.

Shaikh emphasized the common student problems that the meme page regularly brings to light, such as the lack of parking and the finicky wifi.

“What is great about the meme page is that it brings up issues that there are not many avenues to address … even larger [ones] like student housing and how that has impacted so many people,” Shaikh explained. “To cope with such things, I feel people will make a meme about them to show that they are not alone [in] facing this dilemma, and I also feel that the school administration should take advantage of the page and use it as an avenue to see the problems students are facing.”

For the 17,500 members that are part of the “UCSD Memes for Sleep Deprived Tritons” page, memes have become more than just pictures of raccoons. Instead, they have grown to encapsulate and connect a whole culture and community that is alive and thriving at UCSD. Whether that takes the form of tagging or “cracking open a cold one with the boys,” meme culture is just another way to find community.

“[The meme page] gives people the opportunity to come together and laugh at issues about the school that all of us know about. … we don’t have a sports team where you can go and cheer them on. We have raccoons instead,” Shaikh joked. “[The meme page] is a nice place where people can come to have fun, to have a laugh.”

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