On the Origin of Memes

Have you ever been bored out of your mind sitting in from of a computer, trying to be productive? While doing that, have you ever searched up things along the lines of: Memes, colourized memes, GIF memes, and etc? If so, then you are probably guilty of first degree procrastination. These little pictures really seem to suck up your time. One moment you’re almost going to get something done, but by midnight you’re looking at goldfish that have a strong resemblance to Hitler. Just what makes a meme, and why do memes exist? That’ll all be answered shortly, so let’s get started!

In 1976, a guy named Richard Dawkins coined the term “meme”. He defined it as, “an idea, behaviour, or style that spreads from person to person within a culture”, or a self-replicating unit of culture. He thought of memes as transmitted between people, and it was inspired by genes, self-replicating units of life. Memes were simply self-replicating units of culture. An example would be a viral video, where it is shared within a community. This is shared via different means, (usually some form of social media) gradually gaining popularity and becoming that aforementioned self-replicating unit of culture. Memes also evolve and adapt under conditions of natural selection, and if they are unable to gather enough popularity, they are forgotten (go extinct, die).

This is referred to as meme theory. Dawkins proposed that memes evolve, through variation, “fitness” (the ability to survive in different subreddits) and replication, where a recurring part of a meme is used repeatedly (example: _______ but every time they say ________ it gets faster). Since the creation of this theory, the definition of meme has changed quite a bit, but the very essence is the same. Here’s  what Merriam Webster has to say.

  1. :  an idea, behavior, style, or usage that spreads from person to person within a culture

    2:  an amusing or interesting item (such as a captioned picture or video) or genre of items that is spread widely online especially through social media

I hope you learned something interesting, unusual, or a combination of both today! Remember, the next time you think about dead memes, think of them as literally dead, because according to Richard Dawkins’ meme theory, yes, it is dead.


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