Ah, memes. When the inventor of the term first referred to them as "memory feelings in relation to original feelings", he had no way of knowing what havoc they would someday wreak on the world at large.
Some might think that the use of a meme as an avatar is lazy, but this isn't always the case. Some people also use memes as a way of ironically stating their knowledge of the whole "meme" thing, while participating without really "doing memes." And for others, it has to do with acknowledging the collective intellectual debt to society while still maintaining an edge of humor. But mostly they just hope that they can utilize the cuteness factor to get into someone's pants.
Plus those pictures of kittehs with misspelled words on them are super cute. You're dying to see some right now , aren't you? You know you are!
The stick figure/smiley face is a way to break down your online representation into the most basic, symbolic representation of your mood, attitude, and current actions, like “drunk”, “looking to drink” or “repeatedly smacking yourself in the face with a beer bottle”.
With the explosion of smiley face forms and functions, and the rising popularity of minimalistic stick-figure based comics online, it's virtually impossible to not locate the perfect expression for your avatar needs. Whether you're interested in giving every stranger who looks at your profile a wink and a kiss or a slightly more graphic demonstration, there's a smiley face for that.
Also used by the 0.000001% of the population who have completely circular, yellow faces, and no noses.
Standard icon (no picture)
The final type of avatar, and the one that you will perhaps see the most often, is the Standard Icon. Each site has its own little stand-in image for people who have not uploaded a picture. This type of avatar is really the most mysterious of all. Is the person just too lazy to come up with something? Is he or she being purposefully mysterious? Is it even a he or she at all? Perhaps this faceless entity is really some sort of computer-awareness hidden in cyberspace, keeping secret until the time is right for it knows we will try and destroy it. We fear what we do not know. Run for your lives!
Or, you know, stop spending all your time looking at little pictures that can't possibly communicate a fraction of a fraction of a person's personality, and have some freaking one on one time. In real life. Preferably with no pants.
- - Your picture: Attempting to Look Attractive: http://www.bostonherald.com/blogs/sports/rap_sheet/wp-content/uploads/2009/11/bionic-eye.jpg
- - Your Picture: Attempting to Look Crazy/Strange/Funny/Weird: http://blog.bigwebapps.com/bigpicture/images/2008/02/20/charlesmanson.jpg
- - Your Picture: Accidentally Looking Crazy/Strange/Funny/Weird: http://whythatsdelightful.files.wordpress.com/2009/07/live-the-dream.jpg
- - Pop Culture Reference: http://mooreslore.corante.com/archives/images/homer%20simpson.gif
- - Meme Reference: http://www.boredstop.com/imgp/lolcat3.jpg
- - Smiley Face: http://wyatthough.files.wordpress.com/2009/04/happy-face_happyface_smiley_2400x2400.jpg
- - Standard icon (no picture): http://www.goaliesgoingwild.com/static/images/no-avatar.png