There is a phrase online that has captured my attention recently. You’ve probably seen it flipping through social media, maybe you saw it on Twitter or Tumblr, or as a screenshot on Instagram or a comment on Reddit. The phrase is “same energy,” and it usually appears alongside two images of different things that have — you guessed it — the same “energy.”
What exactly does that mean? I guess it means they have an identical vibe, or tone, or texture, or feeling — though I’m not really sure any of those words help us further understand the concept. But essentially it’s the same comparative concept that is the basis of many image macros and memes: the two images are analogous. This thing is like that thing.
Most of the time, “same energy” posts are meant as jokes, or funny observations, but they also point to a relatively new way of thinking about and experiencing the internet, less as an informational database you jack into and more as a mutable object you experience but can’t exactly quantify.
As a concept, “same energy” is reminiscent of astrology, the pseudoscience that’s fun to believe in so long as you don’t let it exclusively dictate every decision you ever make. It’s also of a kind with the idea of “cursed images,” visuals ostensibly so disconcerting and off-kilter that they can materially affect the viewer’s life (even though they’re usually just blurry or overexposed candids). You don’t need to actually believe in astrology or curses to get a kick out of these internet memes and participate in them, just like you don’t need to believe in “energies.” All three of them just help turn concepts and ideas that are difficult to articulate into discernible systems and taxonomies. Examining the internet is an inexact science, and memes like “same energy” help us discuss that.
The internet pretends to be very data-driven. There are tons of metrics one can use to help quantify their experience — the number of site hits, page views, Facebook likes, Twitter followers, retweets, Reddit upvotes, Tumblr notes, shares, views, and so on — but many of those numbers have become meaningless. These metrics are inflated by artificial followers purchased on a shady website, or sprung from trending topics driven to prominence by bots. Hell, the metrics themselves are calculated on platforms that have a vested interest in appearing to operate at a large scale.
Really, the only type of number that matters on the internet is a number big enough to indicate some type of critical mass. To the general audience, the difference between a video with 200 million views instead of 100 million is negligible, because both numbers are astronomically large. In other words, metrics help us get a feel for how something online is, but they don’t tell us exactly how that something is in concrete terms, as numbers usually would.
In addition to all of these useless metrics, social media platforms operate as black boxes powered by algorithmic sorting. How are we supposed to make sense of an internet whose largest players deliberate obfuscate how and why we’re seeing certain things? There are numbers that power the internet, we’re just not allowed to see them. Algorithms that users are not privy to get to decide how things relate to each other. The vague meaning of these metrics helps nobody and only leads to confusion. It’s why Twitter occasionally floats the idea of hiding follower counts and Instagram is looking into hiding the number of likes on posts. The numbers don’t really help your understanding of the content and context of anything. They tell us how popular something is but not the actual role it plays. In the absence of a concrete understanding of what numbers truly mean, we turn to other kinds of sorting systems — and that leads us to things with the same or different energies.
Raw numbers don’t help you understand the emotions or intent of a post, even though most memes on social media are predicated on the idea of eliciting an emotional response or conjuring a feeling. Numbers don’t help us understand why viral images and reaction GIFs proliferate. In their absence, “same energy” helps tie individual posts and memes and pieces of media into the larger system, assembling a web (no pun intended) of relationships rather than a numerical, hard-data-driven hierarchy. It’s a way of cataloguing and sorting that goes into unquantifiable or even articulable attributes of internet ephemera. This is a lofty way of saying: The internet is enormous and the scope of it is incomprehensible to the human mind, so we give objects certain qualities to try and form some ad hoc system within the chaos.
At present, the internet is less a database you query on occasion and more a cultural space you’re always sort of in, reading and browsing and receiving bits of content at a steady clip. It would make sense then, that we’ve come up with methods like “same energy,” a fuzzy way to classify and organize all of the disparate parts of internet culture for easier navigation.