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[edit] What is a meme?

The word “meme” comes from the Greek word “mimesis,” which means imitation. Richard Dawkins coined the term to refer to the spreading of ideas as they are passed and mutated from person to person.

In the digital world, however, the word “meme” has become popular as an image-macro meme. An image-macro is a meme that usually has an image background with caption text placed over the top and bottom of the image. Many image-macro memes use a phrasal template--for example, “X is the new Black” is commonly used. Image-macros often employ humor and spread through posts on various social platforms.

[edit] Characteristics

The traditional sense of privacy as "freedom from the public gaze" (p. 91) does not necessarily apply to the creation and propagation of digital literacy practices including memes [1]. The characteristics of memes can be subdivided into their propagation, duration, and replication.

[edit] Propagation

Memes propagate like other organisms; they multiply from the parent “meme” through transmitting and spreading from person to person. Memes can be formed from social interactions, culture references, and some popular situations people always think they are in. They stay the same or may evolve over time; they also propagate through commentary and parody.

For example, the memes from [rage comics] are widespread through the internet. They are propagated when people use them to describe their situations, and when used, more people in social networks will know the existence of the memes. Then, the memes can be used over and over again to describe more people’s situations.

Memes, according to the British biologist Richard Dawkins, are analogous to genetic characteristics that exist in the natural world, following the natural section process of being created and fading away [2].

[edit] Duration

In modern-day social media, web-based memes start from near oblivion until a catalyst thrusts them to extreme popularity in a short period of time. It is important to understand the viral nature and short life of internet memes.

The following Google search trends query shows the spike and subsequent fall in interest of three internet memes:


They begin with little popularity and quickly spread before returning to relative unimportance. Some memes like [Ridiculously Photogenic Guy] are fleeting and extremely short-lived, but the permanence of the web has allowed other memes—like [Forever Alone]—to gain more traction and survive for a longer duration.

The time spent at maximum exposure varies due to characteristics about the meme. Memorability and impact of the meme influence how fast it may spread to reach its peak and how slow the decline will be after it tips from maximum popularity. These are characteristics that aid in the “natural selection” of memes.

While memes with stronger rhetorical characteristics may survive for longer periods of time, none are permanent. A meme is classified not just by its rise to popularity, but also by its fading away from the public’s conscious. They may reappear later with variations, but the nature of the meme is to eventually fade from popularity.

[edit] Replication

The third aspect that allows a meme to virally prosper is its ability to be replicated. Replicated memes generally use the original imaging, and the new author adds their own text to fit their type of humor. Replications of memes can also change the image background, or both the image and text, as long as it still evokes the original meme.

[edit] References

  1. Jones, R., & Hafner, C. (2012). Understanding digital literacies: A practical introduction. London: Routledge.
  2. Jones, R., & Hafner, C. (2012). Understanding digital literacies: A practical introduction. London: Routledge.
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