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What Defines a Meme?

The article “What Defines a Meme?” compares ideas and information to biological concepts. It looks at how memes, a term coined by evolutionary biologist Dawkins, spreads through societies by comparing them to living organisms that evolve, spread, and die. Today when people think of the word “meme,” they think of Internet jokes shared through social networks. However, the term was in use long before the Internet. Memes are complex ideas that have the power to be spread through societies. They are not physical objects, but rather ideas with “staying power.” For example, the idea that the Earth revolved around the sun spread in prominence while competing ideas were surfacing as well. Or, the idea that Barack Obama was not actually born in Hawaii spread through networks across the country until it seemed it was the talk of the whole country.

This article related to our guest speaker in class who talked about information networks and how memes spread. The article built upon her topic about what a meme really is and how “viral” it becomes depending more on the network’s structure rather than the meme itself. There are either multiple smaller waves of a meme becoming viral or just one extreme wave. If there are multiple smaller waves, it is because there were still people who didn’t see/hear the meme and thus spread it the second time it came around. However, if the meme was so popular that almost everyone in the network saw it the first time around, they are less likely to spread it the second time. Further, if your social network is relatively closed, the meme is less likely to spread virally because it would only be shared among that network and not beyond. The lecturer talked about these concepts surrounding today’s popular Internet memes, but you can also think about these concepts for any type of idea with “staying power” like the author talked about. For example, cryptocurrency could be seen as a meme that grew and evolved much like a living organism. Many different types of crypto rose during this time as it became a buzzword around the world. Because it just had its first “wave” it will be interesting to see if it gains popularity again in the future. However, because this meme was so internationally prominent, I predict there will not be another big wave because it has already exhausted the network.


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October 2018