Friday Fave: A (brief) history of memes


Source: Wired Magazine

Disclaimer: I love memes (wink) – particularly LOLCats.

What is a meme? Do you know that the term meme originated in evolutionary biology when Richard Dawkins defined the term in 1976 in his book The Selfish Gene. He talked about the transmission of culture, like song melodies or art styles. Then along came the internet – now the word refers to internet culture that uses media forms such as images (think LOLCats), hashtags (think #METOO), GIFs (short animated clips), or videos (think Hitler parodies).

Angela Watercutter, culture editor and one of the coauthors of Wired magazines guide to memes, describes the characteristics of a winning meme: “A good meme has to be incisive, funny, and very, very timely.

I started paying attention to memes – as more than just enjoying the humour so many of them play on – after reading Clay Shirky’s book Cognitive Surplus in 2010. (Watch a TEDTalk where he explains the concept). Immediately, the brilliance of these creative communication contributions was revealed for me! For me, this opened a whole new approach to memes. Now I could see the effort and consideration that goes into their creation – I used them in developing online learning activities, applying new language skills and demonstrating the power of memes to communicate like nothing else we’d had access to previously.

Having now read further and taken the perspective from Angela Watercutter, I see the potential of memes to reflect the culture of society and perhaps we could use memes to develop or represent organisational culture.

And yesterday, as we prepared our Friday Faves, I noted the use of a meme in Sweden by an advertising agency – with a twist. The meme, the distracted boyfriend, has been deemed degrading and demeaning to women. Is this where we see the line between cognitive surplus and advertising collide?

Explore a brief history of memes in the article from Wired Magazine and admire the creativity of people and use of humour to reflect the culture of the time. Then consider the clash: when the culture of memes is used by advertising, does this stop being a meme?


This post is part of a weekly Friday Faves series contributed by the team at Ripple Effect Group. Read the entire series and collections from other team members here.