How do memes affect our culture?

The first published case of the word meme (pronounced “Meem”), dates back to Richard Dawkins’ book published in 1976, “The Selfish Gene”. In this book, Dawkins refers to “Mimeme”: a word derived from Greek meaning “that which is imitated”, which was then abbreviated to “meme”. Dawkins was trying to figure out whether there was a measurable unit to describe how ideas spread through generations. To put it quite simply, memes are a “cultural gene”. Memes are visual representations of thoughts, ideas, feelings, or simply plain jokes. Archeologists found a mosaic dating back to 3 B.C, in the ancient city of Antioch, a piece in three frames depicting a bathing scene. The first frame is of a servant preparing a bath; the second frame shows a young man running away from taking the bath while being pursued by an older servant who is unable to catch him; the last scene, a careless but happy skeleton of the young man is sitting casually with a jug of wine with an inscription below him that reads: “Be cheerful, Live your life.”


Memes emerged within the culture of the Internet and gained popularity in the 21st century. Indeed, Internet memes spread from person to person, and that through imitation through sharing them on social media for instance. The Dancing Baby which was a 3D rendition of a baby boogieing to a Swedish rock song is considered the first-ever meme of the 21st century; it gained popularity primarily through email chains. Memes and digital culture are considered a match made in heaven. The Internet is saturated with memes, but it also allows people to share them with others that can relate. Their ability to reach a huge audience within days and even minutes become part of the internet lexicon, which means that memes can also be considered propaganda tools used for marketing purposes; since they can easily change and share popular beliefs among users of the Internet. Some advertising agencies, for example, have narrowed their focus exclusively to creating memes for products and election campaigns. Their primary goal is to get their image from your social media to your texts, your email chain, and your friends.

A meme can be shared with millions online instantly and rapidly, which can further promote a certain way of thinking within our culture. Whether it's a good or bad thing, we can’t deny that memes revolutionized how we communicate and shaped our way to perceive new information.

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