Social Media Killed the Pet Hamster
There are moments when, as a writer, you find yourself midway into researching a story, only to realise how massively wrong you were about what you started out trying to prove.
Usually you start with an idea. Say, “Everyone is posting pictures of cats on Instagram these days. What happened to the pet hamsters that we all grew up with? Hamster sales must surely have taken a hit!”
Armed with this hypothesis, you launch into a relentless exercise to prove that hamster sales are indeed plunging. Of course everyone is buying hedgehogs and doges these days! The internet has made us all want one! Never mind that they’re expensive and not as cute when they grow old or big!
But oh, how wrong we were.
while online appearances tell one story, the pet hamster, according to pet store employees, is far from dead.
“They’re still as popular as ever,” a Pet Safari employee who’s been working for 5 years at a huge neighbourhood outlet said, “People are definitely still buying them even though you see less of them online.”
An employee at a different store echoes this, “Cats might be cute, but really, how many people can take care of a cat?”
Seeing as how hamsters remain the centrepiece of every pet store, it seems obvious that they remain the most popular choice of house pet. Only terrapins, we’re told, have seen their approval rating take a dip in recent years.
While Pet Lovers Centre declined to share their sales figures, a quick survey of several neighbourhood pet stores revealed a similar trend. We went from Toa Payoh to Bukit Batok to Eunos, and were constantly told the same: After all these years, people are still buying hamsters in droves. This is despite their apparent unpopularity on platforms like Instagram.
Based on volume alone, it’s easy to think that hamsters are underrepresented. On Youtube, there are 63.7 million cat videos. In comparison, hamster videos come up to a paltry 3.27 million.
Likewise when it comes to online communities, there are 28.9 million search results for cat discussion forums, with hamster forums lagging dramatically behind at 470,000.
Yet while online appearances tell one story, the pet hamster, according to pet store employees, is far from dead. The facts are that hamsters cost significantly less than other domestic pets because they self-groom, and they continue to be a pre-requisite distraction for young children.
Just last week alone, one of our editors found out that 3 of his cousins bought their children hamsters. Unsurprisingly, parents continue to believe that this remains a way to teach children about taking care of things that belong to them.
The thing is, there’s a tendency these days to believe everything we see on social media. If people are posting pictures of themselves on holiday all the time, they must be leading incredible, carefree lives. If they’re posting pictures of food all the time, then they must go to a lot of restaurants (and be able to afford it).
This leads to a lot of unjustified FOMO. After all, it sucks big time when we compare our regular, day-to-day experiences to other people’s colourful and obsessively curated social media feeds. We don’t realise that there’s a whole other side to these people’s lives that we don’t have access to. Chances are, this private side is hardly as glamourous.
Likewise, it’s not true that people are buying fewer hamsters simply because there are fewer pictures of hamsters online.
It’s funny if you think about it.
After all this time, the pet hamster has become a symbol of how things aren’t always what they seem online. Today’s kids still appreciate the things we did when we were younger, even though we see them on iPads all the time. Yet the fact that they’re on iPads doesn’t mean they aren’t reading books or learning the piano at home.
All of this is cause for comfort. On one hand, social media, as real life demonstrates, doesn’t destroy everything it touches. On the other, we’re reminded that social media isn’t real life—at least not all of it.
Somewhere out there, hamsters are still taking little shits on the hands of little children even if pictures of this aren’t making their way online. In the same way, your friend whose Instagram feed is filled with holiday snapshots is probably broke as hell.
Not that this should make you happy. It’s just, life is so much more than what you see online.