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Why Are Orbs Flooding Your Timeline? Blame the Meme Recession

·5 min read
Illustration by Elizabeth Brockway/The Daily Beast
Illustration by Elizabeth Brockway/The Daily Beast

The nights are long. The memes are stale. How about a nice orb in these trying times?

Maybe you’ve observed an influx in spherical content on social media, or a conspicuous increase in images of wizards contemplating crystal balls. This is no coincidence: orbs are the internet’s hot new three-dimensional shape, supplanting the cube, which saw a surge in popularity among cryptocurrency aficionados last month. As an extremely online year draws to a close and the season’s memes limp through our timelines, web-weary internet users are flocking to the warm, offline nostalgia of basic shapes.

We are, a mega-viral tweet theorized last week, stuck in a “meme recession,” filled with phoned-in jokes and recycled concepts. As evidence, the Twitter user cited one of the moment’s insurgent memes: a cartoon of a happy man and an unhappy man on a bus. The unhappy man is labeled with a caption of something unenjoyable (“being a Jets fan”) while the happy man represents something pleasant (“not being a Jets fan”).

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The meme is not very good. Its format is indistinguishable from other compare-two-things meme templates of years past, like the 2015 meme in which rapper Drake scowls at one item and smiles at another, or the 2017 meme in which a car abruptly changes lanes in order to indicate preference of one item over another. Thing good, other thing bad. Meme recession.

But another recent internet artifact bucks the trend of reused meme templates.

“Pondering my orb,” Twitter user @thatsgoodweb wrote in mid-October, above a drawing of a grim-faced wizard meditating on the depths of a glowing sphere. A nostalgia-inducing image that could have appeared on the cover of any cheap 1990s fantasy novel, the orb resonated with Twitter users—less as an exploitable meme template (like the “two men on bus meme”), and more as an ambient, pro-orb mood, suffused with longing for pre- or early-internet days.

It’s been orb season ever since.

70s Sci-Fi Art, a large Twitter account that shares illustrations from the halcyon days of pulp paperbacks, made a now-viral thread of notable orbs in science fiction. Mysterious spheres hovered over alien cities; a watery orb dangled above a desert in an illustration from Dune, the sci-fi epic that recently became a nostalgia-powered Hollywood blockbuster.

“I made this orb,” tweeted actor Seth Rogen on Tuesday above a handmade sculpture which, while not perfectly spherical, matched the spirit of the shape. A subreddit for orb-pondering launched mid-November.

“Orbpilled wizardcore is on the come-up- possibly displacing Y2Kesque reduxwave as the aesthetic du jour of the hyperpop aficionado,” another popular recent tweet reads. “I'm eating paint chips right now btw”

You don’t need to be tripping on Sherwin-Williams samples to agree: the techno-optimism of Y2K style (see Gen Z’s recent fascination with flip phones) is tired. The tangible, offline world is hot.

Twitter’s trend-chasers are not the only internet denizens craving a return to the geometric basics. Last month, cryptocurrency fans made headlines for their newly discovered love of cubes made from tungsten, an ultra-dense metal. Tungsten megafans pronounced their appreciation for a nice solid shape that they could hold in their hands—a departure from the abstraction of Bitcoin and NFTs that live purely on the internet.

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“We deal with this immaterial virtual world—the metaverse, as we like to say,” a cryptocurrency investor told GQ of his new fixation on metal blocks. “We’re dealing with synthetic commodities, and NFTs, which have financial value, but are completely ethereal. So it’s nice to return to the atoms.”

Holding his tungsten cube for the first time was “like a magic trick,” another crypto fan told GQ.

In an industry of digitization and decentralization, the very heavy IRL cube became imbued with a wild mystique. It’s an aura that has catapulted orbs to internet fame in the past, and made them the ideal shape for this moment of online exhaustion.

In 2017, for instance, then-President Donald Trump was photographed in a dim room touching a glowing orb with President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi of Egypt and King Salman of Saudi Arabia. The orb, as it was immediately and universally decreed in the media, became a symbol of the sheer surreality of Trump’s early days in office.

The picture was like “an image out of the dreams of the most feverish angel dust rap that I’ve listened to,” recalled journalist Dave Colon who, lacking a theme for an upcoming birthday party, announced that the bash would be orb-themed.

“Please bring something orb-shaped to pay tribute to The Orb,” an invitation read. The demand for tribute recalled another key to orbs’ rising status. Unlike its quotidian cousin the sphere, the orb connotes magic, reverence in flavors incompatible with the December 2021 internet. Without that offline mysticism, orbs are just balls.

Invoke the orb at your own peril, past orb-dabblers caution.

“I may have pushed things kinda far because I had my projector spitting out photos of different orbs but also various photos of Trump and THE ORB and eventually people were like ‘You have to stop projecting photos of glowing Donald Trump at your party, it is very bad vibes,’” Colon said, “which to be fair every photo of him and the orb had horrible vibes.” He was also left with an apartment full of gumballs.

In the final weeks of the 2021 meme recession, three-dimensional shapes are the belles of the ball. But, as with all memes, the orb’s popularity will inevitably dwindle.

Jack Dorsey, the erstwhile CEO of Twitter and a current fan of tungsten cubes, announced on Wednesday that his digital payment company Square would change its name to “Block.” The announcement was accompanied by a new Block homepage, featuring the staff’s headshots printed awkwardly across 3D blocks. The strange renderings inspired their own memes, and a Block-approved website that lets people print their own faces on cubes. The website creator’s Twitter handle is “pondering my block.”

Read more at The Daily Beast.

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