Her Campus Logo Her Campus Logo
garbage trends?width=719&height=464&fit=crop&auto=webp
garbage trends?width=398&height=256&fit=crop&auto=webp
Culture > Digital

“Garbage Trends” Are The New Online Norm, But Should They Be?

On January 19, NPR published an article titled “Garbage trends clog the internet — and they may be here to stay.” The article details a pandemic-era internet plagued by a short attention span and the scarily quick dissemination of information and media on social media platforms like TikTok, whose algorithm is meant to inundate you with as much content as possible. The name for these hyper-quick trends was coined by writer Rebecca Jennings in a December 2021 article for Vox, “The year of garbage internet trends.”

Lost? You’re not alone.

What is a garbage trend?

No, these trends have nothing to do with actual garbage (though never say never). Instead, a garbage trend is anything that goes viral online — usually TikTok — and takes over the collective hive mind of the internet, before disappearing from both our feeds and our memories. The example NPR mentioned is sea shanties on TikTok; other garbage trends include Bama Rush, that feta pasta trend on TikTok, and even the Couch Guy memes that lived and died in the span of a few days.

The trends range in content — some are funny, some are DIY and educational “life hacks,” others are just really good gossip. The part that unites them is not the trends themselves, but their impermanence. (Personally, I give Wordle another month, tops.)

Why are they a bad thing?

NPR’s apocalyptic headline would have you think that garbage trends are a stain on the internet, but you might be wondering what’s so bad about garbage trends. After all, was unhinged Elmo really hurting anybody? Why does it matter that we were all obsessed and then moved on?

Simply put, they take up space. When you’re dealing with the internet, “space” as a concept is less easy to grasp than in a physical setting, but think about it in terms of scrolling through your own FYP: How much of your time is dedicated to these nearly meaningless trends? How much of your day do you waste absorbed in them, only to barely remember that time later? Jennings compares them to fast fashion or NFTs; though they may not be as harmful for the environment, they are a poor alternative for consuming content that will actually stick with you.

Ironically enough, garbage trends may even sometimes feed into fast fashion themselves — are micro-trends like the coconut girl aesthetic, which no one has heard so much as a peep from since last summer, not just a different permutation of garbage trends? Even “cheugy,” a garbage trend in its own right, promotes unsustainable consumption to avoid being thought of as uncool.

What do they mean for the future of the internet?

When we consume and partake in garbage trends, we’re essentially strengthening the power of the algorithm, and feeding into our shortening attention spans. Trends themselves aren’t necessarily a consequence of the pandemic; cultural moments have gone in and out of style for decades. But the fleeting nature with which we move on from these ideas seems to be a unique product of the 2020s, and a Black Mirror-esque one at that. Even Saturday Night Live has tapped into short form riffs on TikTok content in their sketches, signaling a new normal of internet and entertainment culture that one day might move so fast none of us will be able to keep up.

Gen Z is extremely online, so it’d be foolish to think that any of us are leaving TikTok any time soon (hence why abolishing garbage trends is probably not a feasible solution). So if you insist, as we all do, on being glued to your phone, it couldn’t hurt to be just a bit more aware of how deeply we crawl down online rabbit holes. If you find yourself publicly cussing out West Elm Caleb in the comments section, for instance, maybe take a step back and ask yourself if you’re going to remember this guy’s name next week.

Erica Kam is the Life Editor at Her Campus. She oversees the life, career, and news verticals on the site, including academics, experience, high school, money, work, and Her20s coverage. Over her six years at Her Campus, Erica has served in various editorial roles on the national team, including as the previous Culture Editor and as an editorial intern. She has also interned at Bustle Digital Group, where she covered entertainment news for Bustle and Elite Daily. She graduated in 2021 with a bachelor’s degree in English and creative writing from Barnard College, where she was the senior editor of Columbia and Barnard’s Her Campus chapter and a deputy copy editor for The Columbia Spectator. When she's not writing or editing, you can find her dissecting K-pop music videos for easter eggs and rereading Jane Austen novels. She also loves exploring her home, the best city in the world — and if you think that's not NYC, she's willing to fight you on it.