"Whoever is sending pictures of Harry Styles, thank you. Bless you. I really needed them."
This was the appreciative message Ashley Farjado, 19, says she saw on her iPhone at last month's Niall Horan concert in Texas. It accompanied a meme, one of more than 20 — a mix of silly and trending ones focused on the One Direction crew — that Farjado was AirDropped by strangers in the wait leading up to the opening act.
This particular note was a poignant message of gratification that is indicative of the friendly, community-building role the concert AirDrop has come to play. While the moment may be transient, it's turning into a form of entertainment in its own right that enhances the overall concert-going experience.
AirDropping memes to total strangers is nothing new. While it's difficult to determine exactly when iPhone owners figured out this playful, though unintended, use for Apple's peer-to-peer content-sharing tool, it's at most five years old. AirDrop was released as part of iOS 7 in 2013 and gained some media traction in 2014, when Josh Lowensohn, a reporter at The Verge, detailed his experience trolling strangers with a sloth meme on his daily commute. In the years since, it has been used for various other meme-trolling scenarios and also evolved into more R-rated material: The summer of 2017, for some unexplainable reason, turned into the summer of the AirDropped commute dick pic.
This is how it usually works: In a typical (non-dick pic) AirDrop scenario, you might receive one random meme. If you're up for it, this will turn into a two-way exchange, with you returning the meme-sharing favour. After that, the exchange tends to reach an inevitable conclusion. On public transit, for example, strangers go their different ways and leave each other's Bluetooth and WiFi range when their commutes end at their destinations.
At concerts, however, where strangers remain in each other's vicinity for hours, AirDropping memes takes on an entirely new scale. As soon as one person sends a meme there's a domino effect: Dozens of other concertgoers join in, passing memes to anyone with their AirDrop set to "everyone" and making for an oddly wonderful and communal meme-sharing experience that's less about trolling, and more about eliciting a laugh. (After all, why would you be at the concert if you're not a fan?)
For those taking part, it serves a dual purpose. For one, it helps to pass the time. "Waiting for the artist to come on at a concert is always boring, so that's usually when someone starts," Annie, 14, a student in New Jersey who attends concerts in New York and Philadelphia, wrote to Refinery29.
While some ways of wasting time on your phone, such as scrolling through your Instagram feed or catching up on Stories, can feel antisocial, AirDropping memes is exactly the opposite. It's a way to connect with those around you, and even provides an excuse to strike up in-person conversations in an open arena full of strangers.
"It was just kind of funny because the memes were coming really quick and people were accepting them," Farjado says of the scene at the Niall Horan concert. "I even heard girls in the rows around me laughing about it and saying, 'I just got that one too!'"
Jozie Ashleson, 19, a student who received her first AirDropped concert meme at an AJR show a little less than a year ago, has never met up or talked with the strangers who have AirDropped her memes. Nevertheless, she says she's a fan of the virtual bond that's forged, however short-lived it may be: "I enjoy the random and sudden aspect of AirDropping memes — it's a simple way to connect with others."
In some cases, the meme-sharing can take on a competitive aspect (how many people can you get to accept your AirDrop request?), but it's also approached as a way to expand an existing library of meme favorites. "Some of the [memes] I already had, but for others I'd be like, that's funny, I'm going to add that to my album," Farjado says.
Annie seconds that opinion: "Out of context memes are always funny, but the best ones are ones you’ve never seen before."
One tip for the concert meme-sharing newbies: If you plan to take part in the AirDropping that ensues, go prepared with top-notch memes saved to your camera roll, and, unless you plan on taking credit and want your identity revealed, change the name of your iPhone before you start sending. If you don't want to be bombarded with memes — which, yes, runs the risk of turning into obnoxious spam — simply turn off your AirDrop or set it to contacts only (Settings > General > AirDrop).