The “They Don’t Know” meme is a popular way to express feelings of isolation or inadequacy as it taps into the universal experience of feeling out of place or misunderstood in social situations. It can also be a way to humorously present one’s obscure achievements. Here’s a closer look at the origins and spread of this relatable meme.
Origins of the ‘They Don’t Know’ Meme
The meme’s earliest form dates back to December 2009, featuring the character That Feel Guy, also known as Wojak. Initially uploaded to the website Sad and Useless, the original image depicted Wojak feeling out of place at a party, with the caption that expressed his desire to be at home playing video games. The image captured the feeling of discomfort and alienation many people experience in social situations, and it resonated with introverts all over the internet who found social gatherings overwhelming.
"They don't know I'm taking a nap"— Wickedaesthetics (@mbadtk86) November 18, 2023
Reminded me of this meme LOL pic.twitter.com/XOcgapiP8W
Resurgence and evolution
The meme resurfaced in November 2020, gaining new life thanks to X (formerly Twitter) user @urmomlolroasted. The updated version featured Wojak still standing awkwardly at a party, but this time, the caption read, “They don’t know I’m mildly popular on left Twitter.”
The new caption poked fun at those who held their online achievements in high regard even though those accomplishments had little to no relevance in real-life social scenarios. The meme quickly spread across social media platforms, including Twitter, Instagram, and Reddit.
Variations of the ‘They Don’t Know’ meme
The meme’s simple format allowed for a wide range of adaptations. Users quickly manipulated it to reflect their personal experiences which ranged from having a mildly popular Instagram accounts to being proficient in video game speedrunning.
These variations underscored the ironic gap between online and offline recognition and achievements. Some versions of the meme also showed a version of Wojak eager to illuminate others about his obscure music or film tastes, and other inconsequential cultural obsessions.
The loneliness of being extremely online
The “They Don’t Know” meme captures the loneliness and isolation that can develop among those whose whole world revolves around online interactions. It points to the fact that while some people do have significant accomplishments or popularity in the digital realm, these often do not translate to social currency in the real world. The meme humorously highlights this disconnect, offering a form of solace or shared understanding for those who feel unrecognized beyond their screens.
Reflecting a universal experience
The “They Don’t Know” meme is appealing because it reflects a universal human experience, and is a reminder that many share these feelings even if they aren’t openly discussed in social settings. Whether it’s feeling out of place at a party, being unrecognized for one’s unique skills, or simply preferring the comfort of one’s hobbies to being around other people, the meme taps into a common sentiment of superiority and preferring to be alone.
The “They Don’t Know” meme is a testament to how simple images and captions can convey profound, relatable human experiences. It bridges the gap between the digital and physical worlds, highlighting the humorous and ironic differences between what people consider important online and offline. As it continues to evolve and spread, this meme serves as a mirror for our increasingly online lives, reminding us of the challenges of trying to manifest our digital personas in a real-world context.