Memes R Us

(Disclaimer: I am quite certain there are plenty of [better] articles written about memes and their social significance in today's world. This entry is written without my reading a single one of those well-researched columns. I probably should have.)

To my...ahem...older readers, the clinical definition of a meme is:

an element of a culture or system of behavior that may be considered to be passed from one individual to another by nongenetic means, especially imitation. Additionally, a humorous image, video, piece of text, etc., that is copied (often with slight variations) and spread rapidly by Internet users.

In practical terms, a meme is that thing causing your teenage friends, relatives, or children to laugh hysterically as they stare into their cell phones.

And just because I know you're too shy to ask: the correct way to say meme is "meem".

So why write about memes?

For starters, we work with tons of teenagers. Understanding and knowing memes gives us another way to relate to this wildly reticent group. Speak their language and they respect you a little more. Very little more.

Secondly, memes provide insight into a generational mindset that permeates all walks of life. Memes give us a glimpse of what the internet society is thinking, usually in fairly contemporary terms.

Third, we find (most) memes to be funny and entertaining. And when we can combine fun with learning, it is an opportunity that we cannot let pass.

There are likely countless ways to discuss memes. Here are some of our quick takes:

Memes are this generation's comic strips.

In the same spirit that previous generations dug into Garfield, Cathy, and Calvin & Hobbes, memes provide quick, lighthearted interpretations of various subject matters. In the same design that memes are almost always one frame (save for the video memes), it's likely more accurate to compare them to Gary Larson's The Far Side. "Reading the funnies" has been replaced with "Scrolling for memes".

Memes are a form of social communication, particularly as a way to remind others you're thinking of them.

When one sees a funny, interesting meme, one is obligated to "tag" friends who would appreciate seeing it as well. This is today's "thinking of you" gesture, encompassing various relationships from romantic to friendly to parental to familial. See a meme about a cat wearing a funny hat? Tag your friend who also owns cats or hates cats or thinks cats are hilarious. Even for guys, those macho beings notorious for keeping feelings locked away in dark places, tagging their friends is a milder form of saying "you're my friend and I appreciate you". Viewed from this lens, memes can also be called today's Gag Gift Card, the kind we used to buy from car wash checkout racks.

Memes can be used as romantic currency, often as a form of courtship.

Nowadays, if you tag someone on a great meme, you're funny. But if you create a great meme, you're a God. From my generation, one rap song states "Guys tell jokes so they can seem witty". There is a one-upmanship to finding the funniest memes around. It's akin to the anachronistic short letter asking "Do you like me? Check Yes or No". But since almost no one self-generates memes, that means almost everyone can find and share them as if the idea were theirs to begin with. To be fair, direct messages are actually the closest things to the language of love for the internet age, but memes are the icebreakers.

In a way, memes are predictable items in the fast-paced, short attention span world we live in today. We still want to be entertained, but we don't want it to take such a long time. How much more efficient can we get than a single picture in a single frame? Will it simply be flashes of light or spritzes of scent in the near future?

While we passively wait for the next generation's form of amusement, we can rest assured that the next big news story is already being repurposed for our viewing pleasure.

Hit refresh. You've got new memes to look at.

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