What’s in a meme?

Memes - what's in a meme?

What's in a meme?

The word meme, pronounced like cream, is a relatively new term for a way of sharing ideas, styles and behaviours that spread from one culture to another – catchphrases, fashion and religious beliefs are all types of meme (see image).

The word is derived from the Greek mimëma, meaning something imitated and was originally coined by Richard Dawkins in the Selfish Gene.

“The concept comes from an analogy: as genes transmit biological information, memes can be said to transmit ideas and belief information.”
Wikipedia, aka fountain of all knowledge.

However, with the ever increasing number of ways to share information on the internet, with social media sites, blogs and websites to name a few, it is becoming increasingly easy to share ideas with a potentially worldwide audience – for instance almost everyone knows what happened after David went to the dentist, what a lolcat is and they also know where they’re taking the hobbits! These forms of shared ideas are known as internet memes.

Originally ideas were shared on the internet through forwarded on emails (resembling something like this – “Fwd: Fwd: Fwd: Fwd: Fwd: look at this amazing picture”) but now social network sites such as Twitter and Facebook are instrumental players in the fast spread of ideas, images and information. In particular, the recent uprisings in the Arabic world have shown how powerful the internet can be in transmitting ideas and garnering support, as well as in protests nearer to home.

Iran Election Word Cloud By: Jeff Clark

Iran Election Word Cloud By: Jeff Clark (click to view full size)

Sometimes the videos and images spread virally of their own accord, hence the biological analogy. Recently though companies have begun to engage more and more in viral marketing, hoping that word of mouth will transmit their product to as wide an audience as possible.

Nike - viral marketing

Viral marketing - pass it on

As any Google image search will show, internet memes are predominantly silly running web jokes and catchphrases that seem to now form the very fabric of the internet itself. However, as procrastinatory and nonsensical as many of these images may seem they are still a way of documenting internet phenomena, catching a moment in time, be it something absurd and insignificant or playing an important, yet subtle, role in shaping the political landscape we live in.

Twitter - Unistalling Mubarak

"Unistalling Mubarak" status on Twitter - widely circulated during the Egyptian uprising

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Frowning flower girl - Keep calm and pipe down

Frowning Flower girl - a silly meme from the Royal Wedding

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