MEME

The term meme, or more particularly internet meme, has become a buzzword to describe any concept or idea that spreads very quickly via the internet or social media. Examples of these can range from a catchy phrase, to a video, a song, or a website. It’s related to the notion of “viral marketing”, where products are spread through media networks like a virus, and the meme also has biological connotations. Richard Dawkins first coined the term in his book The Selfish Gene (1976), to describe a “unit of cultural transmission” which has a role analogous to the gene – as a vehicle for the evolution of culture rather than for the evolution of living organisms. The word comes from the Greek mimema “that which is imitated”, and Dawkins gives examples of memes ranging from the concept of God, to scientific discoveries, to birdsong – all, he argues, cultural phenomena that have evolved through imitation. The internet is ideally suited to the propagation of memes, because of its speed, size, and universality. These same attributes contribute to the ephemeral nature of many internet memes, in contrast to the fundamental cultural entities that Dawkins cites. Let’s hope that a meme such as Gangnam Style will only have the effects of a short-term virus, not a lasting influence on our culture.

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