Our family movie night was interrupted on Sunday by outbursts from the 12-year-old.
“Mom! It’s up to 21 million likes,” he said.
“Now 1,000 more,” he cut in again. Dad paused the movie, exasperated.
“Every time I refresh it, there are more likes! This is crazy!” the tween said. He was giddy.
“The Egg, you guys. The Egg is famous.”
We rolled our eyes, shushed him and hit play.
By Monday, everyone was talking about the Egg, the Instagram world-record holder for the most likes for a post. The Egg became the most-liked post since Kylie Jenner got 18.1 million likes last February for her baby announcement. That record was broken Sunday. By Monday morning, it was at 33 million likes, and growing. (The #EggGang has already announced that Egg merch is coming soon.)
There is a message in the Egg. And it’s bigger than the fact that the tween is cooler than all of us.
The Egg, if you haven’t already heard, is nothing more than a photo of a lovely brown and slightly speckled specimen of poultry perfection that was uploaded by an account holder identified as the “#EggGang.” Plain as it is, the Egg offers an excellent lesson about the pursuit and celebration of Internet fame.
It used to be that when you asked kids what they want to be when they grow up, you’d hear “astronaut” or “ballerina” or “doctor” or “president.” You might even hear “rich.”
Now, too often, we get a different answer: “Famous.” And they don’t mean Jonas Salk famous. They mean Logan Paul famous. (Paul’s one of the kings of the dopey YouTube stars. Imagine Shaggy with his own reality show — sans adorable Scooby — who finally got called out on his stunts when he made a big joke of Japan’s suicide forest and the body of a man who had just killed himself there.)
That’s what professors Yalda T. Uhls and Patricia Greenfield at UCLA heard most often in the studies they did starting in 2007.
When they talked to kids in fourth through sixth grade, 40 percent of the students chose fame as the top value from a list of personal goals that included a sense of community, financial success, benevolence and achievement.
A recent Pew Research study found that 37 percent of teens said one of the big negatives of their social media lives is feeling the pressure to get likes on the things they post.
There it is — popularity, by the numbers.
I see it in my 12-year-old’s little squad. They have a small circle on social media. One of them has his own YouTube channel, they all have Instagram accounts, and they interact ferociously.
If YouTube kid’s post doesn’t get a lot of likes, he gets burned. His mom stepped in after he posted a video climbing out of his bedroom window onto the roof. (Got a lot of likes, though.)
My own child absolutely sparkles when he gets a lot of likes for a picture that he posts, from goofy snaps of the dog, to food, to fishing with his uncle. His current record is a short and ill-advised video of him riding an office chair down the ramp of a parking garage.
And you can see how easily they can go from dog pictures to driving while blindfolded a la the Bird Box challenge.
On one hand, it’s the need for affirmation alongside another form of socialization, the digital version of those ridiculous tween conversations we all had about boys, girls, Jellies, Doom or cherry-flavored Pez. On the other, the desire to be famous has made us more isolated and insulated and made all those interactions a lot less genuine.
My tween and his friends were all aboard the Egg frenzy. And I asked him why they all liked the Egg.
“I don’t think it was about the Egg at all,” he said. “It was just funny to like something like an egg.”
“What is there to like about an egg?” I asked him.
“It has lots of nutrition. It’s amazing that it just comes out of a chicken’s butt and you can eat it. It has protein, it can be made into a cake, or bread, or you can have it sunny-side up, or scrambled.
“But nobody thought about that,” he said. “People just liked it to like it. Everyone else was doing it.”
So what does all the Internet attention mean? Are likes about the substance of a post, or just a measure of groupthink?
I decided to ask Henrietta, the alleged layer of the egg, according to the #EggGang account holder who posted the famous egg photo.
“Is this a campaign to protest the banality of Internet fame, a celebration of the beauty of your menstrual cycle, or proof that your potential offspring is cuter than Kylie’s?” I asked Henrietta.
“All of the above,” she replied.