A man was surprised to discover a photo of his younger self was floating around the internet as a popular meme since 2017.
It must have been a surreal experience for Adrian Smith, a research scientist, who scrolled through Instagram and came face to face with a third-grade version of himself in front of a background of laser beams.
But instead of 8-year-old Adrian, he was affectionately known as "Grayson" – an awkward stepson – on the Teenage Stepdad Instagram account.
On Twitter, Smith posted two photos – one of which was an image of his adult self holding up the infamous photo of him as a schoolboy.
"Here's a very 2020 thing I just learned about myself," he wrote in the caption.
"This picture of the 8-year-old, 3rd grade version of me has been a meme FOR YEARS!!!!!!!!!!!!"
"Like, there's merch and everything. Internet is weird. thread [below]."
Here’s a very 2020 thing I just learned about myself: this picture of the 8-year-old, 3rd grade version of me has b… https://t.co/lesvorEbox— Adrian Smith (@Adrian Smith)1606875422.0
Smith – who is an insect-obsessed biologist with a YouTube channel called Ant Lab – admitted to Slate that the internet running wild with his laser photo was his "own doing."
"Back when Tumblr blogs existed, there was one specifically dedicated to posting your grade and middle school laser background school portraits called We Have Lasers."
"And I had a pretty incredible one, so I submitted it. And it's lived its own life ever since. I don't think that blog exists anymore, but the picture was still floating around, disconnected from me. It had been for a long time."
Smith wrote in a follow-up tweet:
"As far as I can tell, past me has been living an internet-meme-life as Grayson, a creation of @TeenageStepdad, since at least 2017."
Smith explained he found his childhood photo online when he started following the Teenage Stepdad Instagram because he liked a music video that used his favorite Jeff Rosenstock song.
"So I've been like following it because I liked what he did. And then I'm scrolling through my Instagram stories and my picture pops up, and I'm like, what? That's my picture!"
"At first I was like, 'Oh, maybe he just found it on the internet. It is a funny picture.' But then the text below referred to me as Grayson."
"So I went through this back catalog of memes, and there it was all the way back to like 2017. And then the rabbit hole just kept on getting deeper and deeper."
"There's merch. There's an entry-level Patreon thing that was like 'Join team Grayson,' which, I guess, I'm Grayson in the meme."
"It's bonkers to bump into yourself in the wild on the internet. It didn't say like, 'Oh, look at this funny picture of Adrian as an 8-year-old.'"
"Nothing was attached to me at all. It's living its own life and had weirdly reentered my own life on its own through the internet. It was weird."
He shared some of his favorite Grayson memes and tweeted:
"Here are some of my favorite versions of me. Smoking atheist rebel. Grayson Von Chevrolet. Hot dogs and Carmen San Diego."
Smith was impressed with Grayson's accomplishments, adding:
"I mean, Grayson-me is even available as a t-shirt and works as a poster child for a Patreon tier. He's living quite the life."
People admired Smith for being a good sport.
@DrAdrianSmith This is amazing and also now I am super terrified my kid photos may also be a meme somewhere 😬🦷— Gwen Pearson (@Gwen Pearson)1606909156.0
@DrAdrianSmith This is insane but I’m glad it happened to a well adjusted adult with a sense of humor like you!— Roland Kays (@Roland Kays)1606876882.0
@DrAdrianSmith Dang! This is like your 15 year old's worst nightmare ever! I think you amazingly mature and good-na… https://t.co/XQVPj5BsMX— Anne Stanton (@Anne Stanton)1606912692.0
@DrAdrianSmith Way to embrace it! 😂 (Also, it's extra hilar because my nephew's name is Grayson.)— Caitlin S., Masked PhD😷 (@Caitlin S., Masked PhD😷)1606878048.0
@DrAdrianSmith It's amazing you're a great sport about it. Teenage Stepdad has brought a lot of weird joy into my l… https://t.co/Pbs13MujG6— sam (she/her) (@sam (she/her))1606881762.0
People also believed Smith was owed royalties for the use of his photo.
@DrAdrianSmith I feel like perhaps you are owed some royalties??— 🦋🐈🐕🦺 parent *BlackLivesMatter* (@🦋🐈🐕🦺 parent *BlackLivesMatter*)1606881498.0
@DrAdrianSmith So when do you start collecting those royalty checks?— Keith Piccard (@Keith Piccard)1606877844.0
@DrAdrianSmith This story is epic and your response to it elevates you to Rockstar status! I hope you consider addi… https://t.co/HGiqBGQ710— Bly (@Bly)1606916950.0
When asked how 8-year-old Adrian would feel about his internet fame, Smith said it took him a few days to process his thoughts.
"Obviously a little kid would feel ashamed or embarrassed, but it's so disconnected from me that I don't feel any anger or shame or regret or anything like that."
"Obviously I'm cool with it, like I think it's funny. But it's weird to see people's reactions to it."
"Some people think it's bad for making fun of a kid. Other people were like, 'You should sue them and get money.'"
"I think it's funny. It wasn't generated with a mean spirit. This image is just living its own character life in its own meme universe. That's not me, even though it is me, you know?"
For those looking to discover a meme of their younger selves on the internet, Smith offered this bit of advice:
"Let the meme come to you. That's the best way. If it was meant to be, the meme will find you."
"If your thing is glorious and the people are gonna do stuff with it, you'll find it some way. I wasn't looking for this at all. It just popped into my life."