Memes merit cultural recognition

In pop-culture, the meme emphasizes the new cyber status of inside jokes and the shift of societal norms. A picture is no longer worth a thousand words. Now it is only worth four to six.

With constant technology updates and pop-culture changes occurring each week, it is no wonder that memes are so widely used among the young generations for communicating. The science of memes, however, goes far deeper into survival, communication and what it means to be human.

The word “meme” did not actually originate to describe fun pictures or funny looking dogs, but was instead coined by biologist Richard Dawkins in his 1976 book “The Selfish Gene.” In this book, Dawkins says that memes are communicable ideas that spread between individuals in a society. These ideas act as genes,  encouraging  members of society toward certain activities.

By this definition, most concepts in society are ideas that have been transferred memetically. From language to texting to the ability to read, each of these is an idea picked up through common understanding, observation and communication. These skills and concepts transmit in subtle ways to ensure a functioning society.

The science and study of memes is very young, and not a lot is understood about the process of the lifespan of an idea. Rick Froman, professor of psychology at John Brown University, confirms this. “I don’t know if there’s a lot of clarity on an evolutionary reality to [memes].”

“The best way to think about it is of an idea or a concept that’s shared by a lot of people, and, if you’re taking that particular approach to it, it’s something that is working in service to the spirit of the age.” Froman said.

In the fast-paced context of the internet, deas rise and fall within weeks. Where ideas in the real world are used for survival and communication, ideas on the internet are used primarily for amusement.

Randy Hollingsworth, professor of communication at JBU, spoke about how these ideas transfer between people and what makes one idea more effective than another.

“Well, it starts with an idea, and then someone has to articulate that idea through the spoken word, written word, or electronic word, and they have to get that out in various forms of media, and then they get feedback from others to see if the original idea is understood properly,” Hollingsworth said.

“It goes back to that original idea of generating ideas, people grabbing on to ideas and saying ‘I like this,’ or ‘this gives meaning and relevance to me.’” Hollingsworth added.

A simple Doge picture, then, is not just an expression of “much wow,” but is rather a largely agreed-upon comedic premise around which the internet can orient itself – and many internet memes are like this. Internet memes are, on the whole, understood jokes that say something to other members within society. The next cat macro you see, then, is another in an expanding list of in-jokes.