Every generation has its own digital humor: According to a study, during the corona pandemic, the youngest users (Generation Z, born between 1996 and 2010) liked to poke fun at themselves. The oldest users, aged 77 to 94, on the other hand, preferred connecting elements in their pictorial jokes.

The linguist Inke Du Bois from the University of Bremen, together with a research group of students, examined around 1,200 memes – i.e. funny text-image combinations in social media. Result: The digital humor of the five generations examined differs greatly, that of women and men rather less.

An example of the humor of the youngest generation in the investigation: Above the cartoon image of old people scurrying about in the street is the slogan in English: “We have to stay at home to protect our elders. Our elders:… .”.

Topics differ between generations

It was also noticeable that the youngest generation used most of the linguistic-visual humor types in their memes. “This means that the concept of ‘digital native speakers’ is reflected here – people who grew up with the Internet and its applications.”

According to Du Bois, the younger generations prefer to address failed travel plans, zoom video conferences or the boredom of everyday lockdown life.

“The older generations made wearing masks, toilet paper or buying hamsters more of an issue,” said the scientist. A typical example of the humor of the 77 to 94-year-olds, for example with regard to the distance rules, is the image of two birds sitting close together on a branch, one of which seems to be shouting at the other: “2 meters – how often should I tell you?!”.

The baby boomers (1956 to 1965) are represented by the meme of the then Minister of Health Jens Spahn with a straw hat and cocktail, who allegedly offered a trip to Mallorca including vaccination in the early days of the pandemic.

Women and men also revealed slightly different humor styles: According to the analysis, women tended to make fun of others, while men tended to humor themselves. Women rated memes about homeschooling higher than men. They also encountered issues such as boredom and an ineffective lifestyle more often. “Statistically speaking, there isn’t that much difference in humor between the sexes. This is particularly the case between the generations,” said Du Bois.

Internationally, the study was able to discover a connecting element: the virus was often depicted in the memes as a person who stayed longer than planned and triumphed over travel or study plans.