Why Do Cats Run the Internet?
May 12, 2015 1:07 PM   Subscribe

A Scientific Explanation in The New Republic.

Perry Stein writes, But if we’ve come to accept that cats play an outsized role on the World Wide Web, our understanding of why that’s the case still lags.
posted by captivepredator (33 comments total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
posted by zamboni at 1:19 PM on May 12, 2015 [32 favorites]

In before toxo--goddamit, zamboni
posted by sandettie light vessel automatic at 1:24 PM on May 12, 2015 [25 favorites]

"Exploiting the interest in cats" - now that should have been my career.
posted by Frowner at 1:35 PM on May 12, 2015 [4 favorites]

Cats run and overrun everything. Deal with it.
posted by Alexandra Kitty at 1:37 PM on May 12, 2015 [2 favorites]

Dogs you can relate to face-to-face (like your closest friends). Cats are better on a computer screen (like your Facebook friends).

In fact, a cat is like any popular Social Media site: it's going to what it wants FOR itself and doesn't give a flying frak what YOU want, just feed it.
posted by oneswellfoop at 1:41 PM on May 12, 2015 [6 favorites]

I would argue that they missed the overconfident cat gets their comeuppance as a predominant theme in this phenomenon.

Cats are weird.
posted by edbles at 1:44 PM on May 12, 2015 [5 favorites]

Well that article was kind of pointless, a basic rehash of all existing knowledge about cats with nothing new to say. The author is apparently an intern though so I guess it's ok? That's what interns are supposed to be doing.

Cats’ famously reserved and withholding personalities naturally seduce us into paying closer attention to them.
This meme that cats are reserved and withholding as a rule has got to go. Anyone who says this just hasn't met any friendly cats. If you never met any friendly dogs you'd have a bad opinion of them too.

And unlike humans and dogs, cats are not only natural predators—they are also prey, a reason why cats often appear reserved and stealthy.
Since when are humans and dogs not prey? Cats seem the least prey-like of the 3. Ever seen a mountain lion? They eat dogs.

I can weigh in with my expertise as I've been helplessly addicted to the Tiny Kittens Kitten Cams for a few weeks now. I think it's the fact that they spend most of their time doing nothing, so then when they do something it's surprising and interesting. If you're doing something all the time then it's not as surprising and therefore not as interesting. Especially since when they do start moving around, it's because CHAOS has appeared and all cats are on a mission to DESTROY CHAOS. As humans that appeals to us.
posted by bleep at 1:57 PM on May 12, 2015 [5 favorites]

Because we didn't domesticate cats; they domesticated us.
posted by mhum at 1:58 PM on May 12, 2015 [5 favorites]

If, as the article says, cats rule the internet in part because they remind us of babies then why don't babies rule the internet, or at least have a larger presence? I, do, however, like this: "In the world of cats, there is no dog park,” Dale says. “For cat owners, the dog park is the Internet.”
posted by Modest House at 2:01 PM on May 12, 2015 [4 favorites]

Whoa. Kinda clickbait, but still kinda cool to see Perry writing for TNR—and on the front page of MetaFilter. He was editor-in-chief of my college newspaper a few years after I was.
posted by limeonaire at 2:23 PM on May 12, 2015 [1 favorite]

If cats rule the internet because they remind us of babies, it's because they are babies for people who don't like babies. And for people who have enough real babies that they need a break.

I mean, I like several specific babies who are known to me personally, but as a group I am not especially drawn to them...but there's hardly a cat in the world I will not coo over.

I like cats on the internet because they are idealized forms of my cat. My cat is furry and beautiful, but also noisy and demanding and bossy. Internet cats allow me to imagine that my cat will just sit on my lap and purr, for instance, instead of waking me with a giant cat face in my eye at 3am and crying out for fish.
posted by Frowner at 2:30 PM on May 12, 2015 [22 favorites]

Well put, Frowner.

Sometimes one of my cats will demand my attention when I'm on the computer, and I'll be like "not now; can't you see I'm watching this video of a cute cat"
posted by escape from the potato planet at 2:42 PM on May 12, 2015 [10 favorites]

I like Internet cats because when I was a kid and our cat did something hilarious like sticking his tongue out, I'd be like "DAD COME QUICK! Merlin forgot to put his tongue back in!" and by the time Dad showed up, the cat would have retracted his tongue and fallen asleep.

Now I can access thousands and thousands of photos of cats with their tongues out, whenever I want, and it's glorious.
posted by Metroid Baby at 2:55 PM on May 12, 2015 [4 favorites]

You got that long hair, Maine coon look that I like
And I got that feather string that you want to strike
I buy a cat nip ball and you get high as a kite

Cats never go out of style, out of style.
posted by The Whelk at 2:56 PM on May 12, 2015 [4 favorites]

You can show your cute dog's cute face and cute behaviors to strangers by going outside and walking them on a leash. It's harder to do that with cats, because even if you have people over to your house to see your cats, a lot of cats will behave a lot differently when their are strangers around. The Internet is the great equalizer.
posted by infinitywaltz at 3:06 PM on May 12, 2015 [6 favorites]

My cat is so much nicer when there are strangers. Everyone thinks she is so sweet and shy, but when it's only household people she is loud and fussy, and also she has this new thing where she does not like it when I sleep late even if I have already gotten up and fed her. "Get up, food ape!!" she says. "Time's a-wastin'!!!"
posted by Frowner at 3:14 PM on May 12, 2015 [2 favorites]

My cat does that too but I think she thinks any time I get out of bed should be feeding time. And you can't really beat that logic.
posted by bleep at 3:18 PM on May 12, 2015

My fuzzy black cat is nervous around strangers, and will usually watch them cautiously from a distance before going to our bedroom to hide.

My big blonde cat is friendly but demure; if the strangers in the house happen to be plumbers or whatever, she'll watch curiously while they work, but chirp indignantly and swish away if they try to pet her (or really acknowledge her in any way at all).

My tiny black panther is standoffish at first, but once she's relaxed enough to let you pet her, she's good, except that with strangers she gets overstimulated really fast and often goes straight from "relaxed enjoyment" to "growling and biting" without any intermediate "that's enough petting for now" phase in between.
posted by infinitywaltz at 3:19 PM on May 12, 2015

I'm half-convinced they're aerosolizing oxytocin as they purr.
posted by jamjam at 3:29 PM on May 12, 2015 [6 favorites]

My guess as to why it's cats that rule the internet is that cats take fewer resources. They'll be fine with owners who spend many hours working away from home and only have apartments without yards. This applies heavily to the grad students and nerds who built the foundations of the internet. Dogs are closer to a child-level commitment, at least when they're puppies and you have to wake every two hours to walk them.
posted by Countess Elena at 3:43 PM on May 12, 2015 [4 favorites]

I was disappointed by the cat picture deficit in this article. Only one cat picture in an article about cat pictures? ONE?
posted by BlueJae at 3:47 PM on May 12, 2015 [2 favorites]

I'm not sure who this T.S. Eliot guy is. This is the best ever poem about a cat.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 3:50 PM on May 12, 2015 [1 favorite]

As though if cats ran the internet, they'd allow pictures of nasty, hateful, *OTHER* cats on it. Hah.
posted by uosuaq at 4:54 PM on May 12, 2015 [4 favorites]

Because we didn't domesticate cats; they domesticated us.

I recall reading a few years back that the difference between how we relate to dogs and cats goes back to the fact that dogs appear to have been domesticated in pre-agricultural societies (as hunting partners, camp guards, etc.) whereas domesticated cats were an invention of post-Neolithic Revolution societies (which needed to get rid of rodents which ate their grain). Dogs had to bond closely and were most useful when in the direct presence of humans and interacting with them, whereas there was no particular evolutionary pressure on cats to be socialized, per se - they could act as rodent control just as effectively when all the humans were asleep.

No idea if its true, but jives pretty closely with the idea that cats are relatively standoffish (albeit friendly at times) and independent, whereas dogs tend to be much more interactive pets.
posted by AdamCSnider at 4:57 PM on May 12, 2015

I think standoffish and independent (or downright hostile, if feral) is the norm for cats, and the really friendly ones are those who have been continuously coddled from birth, so that they basically never got weaned from mommy cat, but now *you're* mommy cat. In other words, they're emotionally stunted...but much better pets.
posted by uosuaq at 5:09 PM on May 12, 2015 [1 favorite]

As though if cats ran the internet, they'd allow pictures of nasty, hateful, *OTHER* cats on it. Hah.

Yes, there are some bad cats who hang out in our yard sometimes. They will not be allowed on the cat internet ever, ever, ever.

Realistically, there will only be fish on the cat internet. At least all of it that is hosted on Frownercat's server. And maybe some bats. ("They're like mice! If a mouse had a baby with a bird!!!")
posted by Frowner at 5:12 PM on May 12, 2015 [2 favorites]

This is the best ever poem about a cat.

Meaning no offense to Lt. Cmdr. Data, but I'll go for Christopher Smart every time.

Every cat of my immediate acquaintance has been socialized to hang with the humans, so the "cats are so standoffish" bit has never rung true with me. Both of my now-late cats made sure I was carefully supervised at all times, intervening whenever I appeared to be typing too hard, or something.

As soon as I get back from the UK I am getting new kitties, darn it.
posted by thomas j wise at 5:58 PM on May 12, 2015 [4 favorites]

The word "Fluffy" appears nowhere in that article. Go home New Repbulic intern, you're drunk.
posted by OntologicalPuppy at 6:00 PM on May 12, 2015 [3 favorites]

The author of Pangur Bán is a close runner-up, but I agree that Kit Smart wins the all-time cat poem award. You really can't top that.
posted by uosuaq at 6:17 PM on May 12, 2015

Cats are an unsolvable emotional puzzle that will eat your face if you die alone. That's pretty much everyone's ideal love whether they realize it or not.
posted by srboisvert at 7:46 PM on May 12, 2015 [7 favorites]

Previously posted Catinularity Catapocalypse warning.
posted by sammyo at 7:38 AM on May 13, 2015

I thought the cat-internet connection was simply that so many of them liked to sleep in close proximity to the warm and/or attention-focus (desktop) computers many of us used to access the internet during its formative years.
posted by aught at 7:45 AM on May 13, 2015

An acquaintance who works in the NOC for an alarm company says they know when they have a systems problem, not because of the sensors going off-line, or because interfaces go down, but because their customers call saying their home security video systems are not showing them their cats anymore. As in, for any given outage, that's what people care about enough to call them, more than "my security system is down" or "I can't see if someone is steeling my stuff."
posted by Blackanvil at 1:51 PM on May 13, 2015 [3 favorites]

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