29 December 2016


A meme (AKA Internet meme) is an idea, behavior, or style that spreads from person to person within a culture. Nowadays, these tend to spread via the Internet and particularly through social networks such as Facebook or Twitter.

Memes are seen as cultural analogues to genes because they self-replicate, mutate, and respond to outside forces.

The word meme is a shortening (modeled on gene) of mimeme from Ancient Greek meaning "imitated thing." It was coined by British evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins in his 1976 book The Selfish Gene well before the Internet. Dawkins gives examples of memes from catchphrases, fashion, and technology.

Proponents theorize that memes are a viral phenomenon that may evolve by natural selection in a manner analogous to that of biological evolution. Memes do this through the processes of variation, mutation, competition, and inheritance.

Memes that propagate less prolifically become extinct. Others survive, spread, and sometimes evolve or mutate.

Memes existed before we had that word to attach to them. I wrote here earlier about the phrase "Kilroy was here" which was a popular, viral meme that appeared during and after World War II.

Looking at memes popular in the online culture in 2106, we find a lot of lightweight items.

As Andy Warhol predicted about the more and more frequent "15 minutes of fame" we would see in culture, someone such as Ken Bone became a meme very briefly during the second Clinton/Trump Presidential Debate.  Bone, an undecided voter tapped by Gallup, asked the candidates an earnest, straightforward question about energy policy and quickly became a meme more due to his old-fashioned look and a red sweater that sold out within a matter of hours and became a popular Halloween costume.

Me at the beginning of 2016 vs me at the end of 2016” was popular photo meme in 2016. But, unfortunately, what Dawkins meant as a serious kind of cultural evolution seems to indicate that our evolution is a mimetic devolution into triviality and pop fluff.

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