There’s a joke that circulates online every few years. It’s a picture of a floppy disk, accompanied by the claim that a kid thought it was a real-life version of the “save” icon. Every time it pops up, people laugh, hit “like,” and marvel both at their own age and the cluelessness of kids today.
Over the last week, this gag has been making the rounds on Twitter yet again, thanks to a user under the name Bill Gross. His tweet went viral, with more than 174K retweets to date. The catch? There is no smart-mouthed kid in this equation. Gross was just repeating a laugh he’d once enjoyed.
Gross, the founder of a tech incubator, was watching a talk by Michael Wolf at the WSJ D.Live Conference, when he started pondering the progression of technology. While he was live-tweeting the event, the disk image drifted through his timeline. “I looked at it, and it brought back memories for me of my first floppies, multimedia PCs, and it made me feel a bit old,” he tells The Verge. He grabbed a new picture of a floppy disk, added his own spin, and hit Tweet.
Gross considered his message as more of a meme than a literal report of something that happened to him, though he admits he has no idea how this goof got started. Old iterations of the floppy disk meme are not hard to find. The oldest instance I’ve been able to dig up, circa a forum post in January 2014, comes from an unidentified web comic.
Since then, brands on Twitter have co-opted it in their usual attempt to be trendy. Tech bros have gleefully shared it with #humor hashtags. It’s even made its way into PowerPoint presentations, which of course have then been recycled for Twitter content. It’s appeared online in spaces like Reddit or Imgur. It even got a shoutout in a textbook.
The world is not full of clueless children repeating the same awed observation, though. It’s more likely that adults are just regurgitating an old joke. Floppy disks are dead technology; that’s hardly a new revelation. “I’m not sure why this meme resonates so much,” Gross says, “but I think it’s maybe because people have nostalgia about this time, and also it’s funny how the icon on the desktop survived so long after the floppy died.”
There’s a well-established fascination with antiquated tech and other bygones of people’s youth. From media outlets to daytime TV shows, people love to examine the passé things these darn kids today “don’t understand”: broken records, typewriters, landlines and telephone booths, the dial-up sound on the first modems, and so forth. YouTuber channels like FBE (formerly The Fine Bros) have built entire followings off this curiosity with their “Kids React” series.
There’s comfort in laughing at what kids today don’t know, because it suggests that those of us old enough to remember such marvels are not obsolete after all. There’s little reason for a kid to recognize a floppy disk for what it actually is, but we can pass our aging awareness off as intellectual superiority and rich life experience. Gross may be the latest, most popular example of the joke, but it’s doubtful he’ll be the last. The floppy disk lives on as technical shorthand instead of a physical object — that is, until everyone rightfully adopts the “ctrl/command + S” shortcut.