I cannot meme today. I has the dumb.

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There is a social media component to my job. In my mind, this means remaining up to date on all trends in social media and reacting to them in a way that has a positive effect on my company.

As I am physically unable to do this, there are times when I wonder whether I’ve grown too old for that part of my job. Should I relinquish this responsibility to one of the college students on my staff (which is how I got the job in the first place)?

Normally, I recognize this sort of thought as mere insecurity and move on by writing a blog post or stoking my confidence by reading the mentions, re-tweets, and comments that have appended themselves to the original content I’ve created via my company’s social media accounts.

Then, on Thursday, one of my colleagues sent me this:

After some 30 seconds of reading and analyzing, I was no closer to understanding its meaning than I was to understanding who created the “shoes” pictured in the upper left corner, or who would wear them.

According to popular social media sources, these types of memes have been all the rage this year. I had a much easier time interpreting the meaning of these memes when I accepted that I have never read surrealist literature nor will I ever devise to call myself a surrealist, then broke down and viewed a few more memes that better fit my personality and knowledge base. Like this one:

Full disclosure, though not the exact same as those pictured above, I do have this one pasted to the back of my office computer, visible to anyone who enters my workspace:

The image sharing power of Pinterest and Facebook as well as the ease with which we can now edit photos has made popular this kind of content creation. But, honestly, what the hell?

I can’t count the number of times, while browsing through my wife’s Pinterest account, I’ve uttered that line. The things that people create are, more times than not, completely inappropriate for any context outside of their own. Take the surrealist meme pictured above. It’s funny to some people, mainly people like my colleague who sent it to me and have the knowledge base to understand it. Beyond that circle of culture, the meme is dead .

It’s also entertaining in its own specific time. Once created, the shelf life of said meme (there is no research on this that I can find this morning, check for an updated post later) probably mimics the normal distribution curve associated with innovation diffusion theory, happening in real time and in hyper-speed. My best guess about a meme’s interpretation by a specific culture, and if lucky the mainstream, is that the meme itself is dead as its exposure begins to fall to the right of the curve’s peak. There is little chance that it will ever become popular again, at least for that particular generation.

Shifting gears, Richard Dawkins conceived of memes and mimetic behavior as a specific trait of evolutionary relevance. Particularly, as humans mimic the behavior of others in their culture, the hope is, these new behaviors will have some sort of positive effect on their biological sustainability (this is my interpretation of what I’ve read of memes on Wikipedia, and I plan to read more of Dawkins soon). If we apply this definition of memes to, say, a study of what is popular on Pinterest or what people are sharing the most on Facebook, what will we find out about the culture of which we are a part? According to my wife’s homepage, the sustenance for us includes laboriously decorated baked goods, abbreviated/hyper-focused workouts, one’s hairstyle, and finger mustaches.

For my entertainment, I want to see cats in adorable poses illustrating some life concept superimposed over the cute images. For my brain’s sake, I hope social memes like these begin to die off like our ancient ancestors. For the researcher inside, I hope the meme wars continue, drafting more creative minds in the fight toward whatever we’re hoping to accomplish. At least we all have plenty of, “What the …” moments ahead of us.

4 thoughts on “I cannot meme today. I has the dumb.

  1. Anna

    That “Surrealist” meme doesn’t make sense to you because it’s not about Surrealism. It’s all about Dadaism. I wish that one would disappear from the internet before any of the others.

  2. Ever the connoisseur and critic of social media – that’s the academic way of saying I can’t get enough of Imgur, Facebook, and Twitter – I can tell you that there’s a deeper layer to the meme trend than meets the eye.

    If you go on Imgur or Reddit, where memes often are born and mastered, you’ll see many posts that are along the lines of, “I hate seeing memes on Facebook. They don’t do it right.” In this post-human world, there is still a right and wrong way to create humor…or art…or whatever you want to call a meme. Memes are supposed to be made in a certain place in a certain way, that they belong to image sharing websites but not to Facebook.

    I’d be interested to see somebody compile an ethnography of memes. While we’d like to think it’s only a passing cyber-fad, I have an inclination that they are here to stay for quite a while.

    • Insightful as ever, plus you’ve given me my new research interest. The problem with conducting this kind of ethnography is the sheer size of the pool available for research. Memes have been around for, well, forever, depending on how you define them.

      I will say, though, that it would be hilarious to use Pinterest as a research tool.

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