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I have a character who one of their primary character quirks is supposed to be that they are very involved in Internet subculture. They're a programmer who spends a lot of their spare time on certain imageboards and social media, and they're a bit of a memelord. The character is young but this quirk is unique to them and not a function of their youth, other characters of the same age are not as involved in Internet subculture as they are.

However, when trying to write this character I've realized that it's very hard to show, not tell, this aspect of their character. Perhaps the biggest issue I've noticed is that the easiest way to show the characters' habits would be through the way they communicate. Because Internet culture colors their worldview it makes sense that they would use that terminology when trying to explain things. However, because of the ever-shifting nature of memes, this would mean that would age super quickly and would come off as breaking suspension of disbelief. It would be the equivalent of a character in a work written in the 70s intended to be seen as a hippie talking about New Age culture: in the modern era they stop looking like a young person and start looking dated. Or they come off as "the author is out of touch and this is how they think the young people behave". Think of a young person unironically using "pwned" in conversation.

I'm deliberately trying to avoid chasing the latest trends to avoid dating my work, but the thing is the Internet and the broad strokes of Internet culture seem like they will be around for some time to come, even if flavor-of-the-month memes wither and die. Given this, how do I portray someone who is involved in Internet culture without dating their character?

EDIT: As an example, this is the kind of thing I am trying to avoid.

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  • Given the fast pace at which memes are evolving, I don't think you can avoid it entirely. However, it might not date the character so much as the story as a whole. Not sure if this is better. – Llewellyn Jan 6 at 22:52
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    I would look to some iconic memes and check the history and origin in "Know your meme." Some, like Kermit sipping Ice Tea "That's none of my buisness" are ancient in internet terms, as are memes that spoof known pop culture works or popular ad campaigns (Geico commercials are a trove of these, but there are some ads that even transcende the internet. Apple's 1984 is still used to discuss the company, despite airing in the same year, and "Mean Joe Green" endures as well.). – hszmv Jan 13 at 14:22
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Look to Cyberpunk:

This depends on how close to realistic you want to be. The more realistic you want the portrayal of internet culture, the more specific you must be. At that point, you MUST date the behavior of your MC and risk irrelevance.

I would read some vintage cyberpunk. The oldest stuff was even written by people with little understanding of actual computers. Sci fi elements allow you to do whatever you want, and the rules are not dependent on reality. FABRICATE internet culture, so no one knows any of the memes and references you're using. It will exist outside of time because it never existed exactly as you are portraying.

Then use a technique I've noticed from Agatha Christie. Have other characters established as authorities reference the same behaviors as the MC, and referenced as internet culture. It's using a logical fallacy (appeal to authority) to give apparent legitimacy to facts and behaviors. In real life, this fails because reality challenges it (let's not go into politics...). In a book, YOU control everything (and you are fabricating it out of whole cloth). Police officers refer to the MC's behavior as clever, so he's assumed to be clever. Other people portrayed as hackers say he's a great hacker, so he must be. Someone calls him a mega-geek computer nerd, and he will be seen as such by your reader - even if he questions his own qualifications.

So use the power of the author's bully pulpit and make the world whatever is convenient for your story and plot. Make people see your character through the eyes of the other characters, and let that image be whatever you desire. You are god - don't be shy about using it.

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    I agree. Raymond Chandler advised that if you're going to use slang (or language that will easily date) in your work, make up your own. At least the words can only date from you. – Zan700 Jan 12 at 22:02
  • Referencing old memory here, but I seem to recall Snow Crash being a very good example of this. Your world is what you make it – Stephen R Jan 13 at 14:02
  • @StephenR I've got Snow Crash on my book shelf, although I was specifically thinking of Neuromancer and The Cybernetic Samurai when I wrote this. All good stuff. – DWKraus Jan 13 at 21:55
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I dont think you can. After all, this character can be pretty up-to-date in his internet knowledge on the story.

But for the new readers, as time passes they are always going to read the story and eventually say "Hey, isnt this character making a reference to X that happened some months/years ago."

So yeah, you can try the best you can. But some things are going to get old, no matter what.

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