Understanding the Power of Memes

11/12/2013 By
Understanding the Power of Memes
Photo by istolethetv / Flickr
Memes are so common in internet life that most don’t think much about them. Who doesn’t wake up to BuzzFeed and LOLcats? Who doesn’t Facebook-forward and Reddit-bump the funny and teh cute? Internet meme-spawned television programs like “Web Soup” and “Tosh.0” bring the hits daily. But memes are not limited to “nutshot” videos and captioned photos of “Business Cat”. I know, right?

A meme is anything transmitted or spread from person to person. British biologist Richard Dawkins coined the term “meme” and meant it to equal “gene” in describing how ideas and behaviors develop and evolve in human culture. A gene competes for survival. A meme competes as well, for your attention. This can help with efficient network management.

To survive, a meme must amuse, entertain, or shock you enough to direct others’ attention in a positive feedback loop. You tell two friends, they tell two friends, and so on. When this happens, the meme has gone “viral”. When ideas, behaviors, or products are so universally known they become a part of human culture, worldwide meme pandemic, this is meme survival of the fittest.

Using Them, Using You

We can think of many ways that we use memes, but how do memes use you?

Simple, no one wants to feel left out. As humans are a colony species, living and working together in large numbers, most want to fit in and be hip to what’s happening in society large and small. Break-time at the water cooler is spent sharing jokes, last night’s primetime developments, and “Did you see…on FB?”. Humor is is the most frequently shared meme, and it’s no coincidence that sharing laughter together is relaxing and bonding.

An old adage states that what men call gossip is actually all of history. Everything we know of human history is from the point of view of the person who wrote it down. Just the facts, Ma’am! Not likely. An even older adage: Everyone has an agenda. By making use of memes, anyone promoting anything - from advertising a product to campaigning for a political candidate to attempting to take 4:20 off the American clock - can shape the way you think, vote, and buy.

Earworms are musical snippets you cannot stop thinking about. An earworm can wiggle around for days and advertisers profit from this by using catchy jingles and popular songs, many of which have become memes in their own right. Hide yo’ kids, because you can’t hug every cat and Songify the News has even turned the nightly news and Match.com profile videos into viral earworms.

Memes mutate and adapt, sometimes intentionally, sometimes, like in the game “Telephone”, not so much. Inaccurate gossip represents accidental mutation - maybe, ‘cause haters gonna hate - but mis-information is a powerful tool as well. A nasty whisper campaign can try to take even the powerful down.

As much as we all use memes to connect with each other, they have power over us as well. How many memes can YOU spot in these paragraphs?

Authour Bio: Maegan Pulman is a freelance travel writer and enthusiast for traveling as well as part time Miami Beach Condos assistant. She is active in local and international traveling groups and is always on the lookout for new travelling palces.
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