The Meme Evolution

Memeing is an internet sensation that can keep both young and old, social media savvy, glued to their smartphones. We create laugh and share Memes frequently, but do we ever take the time to think of their origins?

Teenagers using their smartphones simultaneously.

By Snethemba Ngcobo

The Meme culture has hit our internet circles fast and hard. Most of us have never taken the time to analyze the origins of Memes, yet we read share and some of us even create them every day, with most of their referential humor being apparent. In our current world the Internet and technology has given the common man power to become an artist/ writer creating and sharing ideas, with a vast audience almost instantly.

The original concept and name ‘Meme’ was coined by evolutionary biologist, Richard Dawksin, in his 1976 publication ‘The Selfish Gene’. Dawkins describes a Meme as “A unit of cultural transmission, or a unit of imitation.” He compares cultural Memes to genes in their shared qualities to be transmitted from one person to another, and their ability to evolve according to different external factors.

Internet Memes are the movement that popularized the term ‘Meme’. The internet transcended it from the scholar definition to an integral part of popular culture. In theology a Meme can be “An idea, behavior or a style that spreads from person to person.” Therefore Memes can take the form of a piece of writing, music, a picture or even a dance, remember the Naenae? They are then shared and are naturally prone to change or subjected to perfect or imperfect mimicry depending on the receivers discretion.

Internet Memes usually come in the form of a picture with humorous captions narrating what the picture does, or could imply. Cellphone app developers have launched applications that allow smartphone users to download apps that have an array of Meme templates that the user can choose from and edit with their own sarcastic, satirical or slapstick thoughts etc. IOS and Android’s Google Playstore, being the frontrunners on this. In the latest versions of these apps it is also possible to Meme (if that is the correct word) your own personal images, taken from your phone camera or downloaded from the internet.

Memes are in this way created then propagated, manipulated or duplicated- at the rate at which these internet Memes are uploaded, downloaded and shared, it is hard to trace the original owner of the intellectual property. This has led to many who take the art of Memeing seriously resorting to tagging their work. In our times, print media is slowly becoming a dead medium; Memes could be equated to be what comic strips are to newspapers. They add funny commentary to the cultural news mill that is the World Wide Web.


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