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  1. #1
    Scarab Lord Howard Moon's Avatar
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    Lightbulb Correct use of the word "meme".

    TL: DR: I know what a meme is. Do you?


    In the last couple of years, the use of image macros on internet forums has become very common. An image macro is a picture captioned with superimposed text for humorous effect. There exist several types of image macros, such as "bad advice puppy", "socially awkward penguin", and "philosoraptor", and new ones are born every day. I personally don't use them often, but I don't mind them. Some are actually quite witty/funny and even useful.

    Unfortunately, these image macros have started to be erroneously called "memes". Now, in my opinion, image macros are in fact memes. Successfully spreading image macros are definitely memes, but not all memes are of the image macro type. Memes are much, much more than that, and I find it unfortunate and wrong that people call image macros memes, as if that were the meaning of the word.

    What is actually a meme? The word "meme" was coined in by Professor Richard Dawkins in his famous book "The Selfish Gene" back in 1976, long before the Internet. In his book, Dawkins defined a meme as a "unit of cultural transmission". Wikipedia describes it as "an idea, behavior or style that spreads from person to person within a culture". There are thousend of memes in Western culture alone. Some examples are the belief of life after death, the Coca-Cola logo, and Beethoven's fifth symphony (dun-dun-dun- duuuuun), ideas which have been spreading throughout our culture so successfully that anybody can recognize them.

    This is a quote from Chapter 11 from Dawkins' "The Selfish Gene":
    Examples of memes are tunes, ideas, catch-phrases, clothes fashions, ways of making pots or of building arches. Just as genes propagate themselves in the gene pool by leaping from body to body via sperms or eggs, so memes propagate themselves in the meme pool by leaping from brain to brain via a process which, in the broad sense, can be called imitation. If a scientist hears, or reads about, a good idea, he passed it on to his colleagues and students. He mentions it in his articles and his lectures. If the idea catches on, it can be said to propagate itself, spreading from brain to brain.

    Conclusion:
    The use of image macros is definitely a meme. It is an idea which has successfully propagated to the point where most people on this and other internet forums understand them when used in the correct context. They may be limited to a small percentage of the population (even a small percentage of the computer/internet-literate population), but they are memes nonetheless. HOWEVER, the word "meme" has a much, much broader meaning than a simple image macro. Hence, when talking about image macros, the term "image macro" should be used, not "meme".

    Thank you for reading.
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  2. #2
    Stood in the Fire skidmarksteve's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Xebu View Post
    "an idea, behavior or style that spreads from person to person within a culture".
    examples of memes that i can think of...
    cat videos
    demotivational posters
    lolcats
    David after the dentist
    charlie bit my finger

    not just image macros

    /agree

  3. #3
    For me, a meme is a recurring internal Internet joke. That's all what it is for me.

  4. #4
    Scarab Lord Howard Moon's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by skidmarksteve View Post
    examples of memes that i can think of...
    cat videos
    demotivational posters
    lolcats
    David after the dentist
    charlie bit my finger

    not just image macros

    /agree
    See, but those are all only internet-based memes. My point is that the word "meme" means much more than that.

    I think there are a lot of young people here who spend a lot of time on the internet. My purpose of this thread was to try and show them that the term "meme" is much older and much larger than that.

    I enjoyed reading The Selfish Gene sooo much a few years ago, and loved the concept of memes. Which is why I find it sad that for most people "meme" just means "random crap that goes semi-viral on the internet".
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  5. #5
    Mechagnome Nah's Avatar
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    Spotted this topic and thought I'd share an interesting TED video I saw recently regarding memes, or "Infectious Repeatitus."



  6. #6
    Scarab Lord Howard Moon's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Nah View Post
    Spotted this topic and thought I'd share an interesting TED video I saw recently regarding memes, or "Infectious Repeatitus."

    <video>
    Gatta love Dan Dennett Quite interesting talk, thanks for the link!
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  7. #7
    I'm not really a big fan of "meme theory" right now, mainly because it's not entirely clear exactly what is being transmitted. Ideas, sure - but what are ideas? Merely information? Are they physical in the form of synapses in the brain? Are they analog or digital? Can we do cladistics or phenetics with ideas?

    I'm of the opinion that these questions (and others) should probably be answered before we even start saying things like "X is a meme".

  8. #8
    Free Food!?!?! Tziva's Avatar
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    I'm not sure I really understand where you're going with this. You're not disagreeing that particular image memes are memes but you're telling the internet to not call them that?

    Also, a lot more things than image macros fall under the category of "internet meme." This useage is not incorrect.

    Dawkins wrote The Selfish Gene in the 70s. The term has expanded far beyond his original usage (in fact, I think even cultural memes in general were excluded from his original edition and was revised later to include it as a response to criticism). "Internet meme" is a legitimate thing and is usually used in a correct context. There is no valid reason to start a crusade to stop people from using a perfectly accurate term.

    ---------- Post added 2011-08-29 at 08:25 AM ----------

    I'm not really a big fan of "meme theory" right now, mainly because it's not entirely clear exactly what is being transmitted. Ideas, sure - but what are ideas? Merely information? Are they physical in the form of synapses in the brain? Are they analog or digital? Can we do cladistics or phenetics with ideas?
    What is being transmitted isn't really relevant. It's that it is being transmitted that makes it a meme.
    Last edited by Tziva; 2011-08-29 at 03:25 PM.
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  9. #9
    Scarab Lord Howard Moon's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Metalogic View Post
    I'm not really a big fan of "meme theory" right now, mainly because it's not entirely clear exactly what is being transmitted. Ideas, sure - but what are ideas? Merely information? Are they physical in the form of synapses in the brain? Are they analog or digital? Can we do cladistics or phenetics with ideas?

    I'm of the opinion that these questions (and others) should probably be answered before we even start saying things like "X is a meme".
    A meme is information. The physical medium which is used to store or transmit it is not important. The fact that it gets copied is what makes it a meme.

    ---------- Post added 2011-08-29 at 05:52 PM ----------

    Quote Originally Posted by Tziva View Post
    I'm not sure I really understand where you're going with this. You're not disagreeing that particular image memes are memes but you're telling the internet to not call them that?
    Sort of All I want is for people to realize that "meme" is a much broader term than they may think.

    We all know how quickly language evolves. When people start using a word in a certain way, even if initially incorrectly, the word eventually becomes that.

    I would find it unfortunate if the first thing that came into my grandchildren's mind when thinking of the word "meme", were the picture of a lolcat.

    Quote Originally Posted by Tziva View Post
    Also, a lot more things than image macros fall under the category of "internet meme." This useage is not incorrect.

    Dawkins wrote The Selfish Gene in the 70s. The term has expanded far beyond his original usage (in fact, I think even cultural memes in general were excluded from his original edition and was revised later to include it as a response to criticism). "Internet meme" is a legitimate thing and is usually used in a correct context.
    I agree. I don't have the book handy, but I will check his revision notes when I get home.
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  10. #10
    I can't really see why the mere fact that something is getting copied is all that matters. While technically true, how does that explain anything about the world? I'm assuming that Dawkins was trying to do a bit more than just coining a new word in '76.

    I think there's an analogy here with computer data; we wouldn't say that "A bit is information. The physical medium which is used to store or transmit it is not important.", would we? Of course not, because without a way to store and transmit bits, they're useless to us.

    Furthermore, which pieces of information count as memes, and which do not? You have to answer what, and possibly how, in order to answer this. And if all pieces of information are memes, why not just use the word "information"?

  11. #11
    Quote Originally Posted by Xebu View Post
    TL: DR: I know what a meme is. Do you?


    In the last couple of years, the use of image macros on internet forums has become very common. An image macro is a picture captioned with superimposed text for humorous effect. There exist several types of image macros, such as "bad advice puppy", "socially awkward penguin", and "philosoraptor", and new ones are born every day. I personally don't use them often, but I don't mind them. Some are actually quite witty/funny and even useful.

    Unfortunately, these image macros have started to be erroneously called "memes". Now, in my opinion, image macros are in fact memes. Successfully spreading image macros are definitely memes, but not all memes are of the image macro type. Memes are much, much more than that, and I find it unfortunate and wrong that people call image macros memes, as if that were the meaning of the word.

    What is actually a meme? The word "meme" was coined in by Professor Richard Dawkins in his famous book "The Selfish Gene" back in 1976, long before the Internet. In his book, Dawkins defined a meme as a "unit of cultural transmission". Wikipedia describes it as "an idea, behavior or style that spreads from person to person within a culture". There are thousend of memes in Western culture alone. Some examples are the belief of life after death, the Coca-Cola logo, and Beethoven's fifth symphony (dun-dun-dun- duuuuun), ideas which have been spreading throughout our culture so successfully that anybody can recognize them.

    This is a quote from Chapter 11 from Dawkins' "The Selfish Gene":
    Examples of memes are tunes, ideas, catch-phrases, clothes fashions, ways of making pots or of building arches. Just as genes propagate themselves in the gene pool by leaping from body to body via sperms or eggs, so memes propagate themselves in the meme pool by leaping from brain to brain via a process which, in the broad sense, can be called imitation. If a scientist hears, or reads about, a good idea, he passed it on to his colleagues and students. He mentions it in his articles and his lectures. If the idea catches on, it can be said to propagate itself, spreading from brain to brain.

    Conclusion:
    The use of image macros is definitely a meme. It is an idea which has successfully propagated to the point where most people on this and other internet forums understand them when used in the correct context. They may be limited to a small percentage of the population (even a small percentage of the computer/internet-literate population), but they are memes nonetheless. HOWEVER, the word "meme" has a much, much broader meaning than a simple image macro. Hence, when talking about image macros, the term "image macro" should be used, not "meme".

    Thank you for reading.
    You give this much depth to internet bullcrap, but you have the nerves to say ''doing a soldier's job needs X IQ''. Funny, anyway, i always knew what meme meant.

  12. #12
    Free Food!?!?! Tziva's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Metalogic View Post
    I can't really see why the mere fact that something is getting copied is all that matters. While technically true, how does that explain anything about the world? I'm assuming that Dawkins was trying to do a bit more than just coining a new word in '76.

    I think there's an analogy here with computer data; we wouldn't say that "A bit is information. The physical medium which is used to store or transmit it is not important.", would we? Of course not, because without a way to store and transmit bits, they're useless to us.
    I think you're misunderstanding a little bit. When I say all that matters is the fact it's being transmitted and not what is being transmitted, I mean that with regards to meeting the definition of a meme.

    A meme is really any bit of data that gets copied and repeatedly transmitted throughout a particular population. It could be something asinine like an idiom, or it could be something more important, like cultural norms.

    You're expanding philosophically on the information itself when all that is really being discussed here is the usage of the word, which doesn't come with any sort of necessary value or lack thereof placed on the information being transmitted.

    Yes, the assumption is that it has some value to the community (even if it's just the shared experience of laughing at the same LOLcat), but again, it's not really relevant to discussing what the word itself means.

    Furthermore, which pieces of information count as memes, and which do not? You have to answer what, and possibly how, in order to answer this. And if all pieces of information are memes, why not just use the word "information"?
    Because it's the transmission that is what makes it meet the definition, not the information itself.

    My knowing [X], for example, is not a meme. My telling a dozen people [X], and having them tell a dozen people [X], and so on and so forth until thousands of people are telling other people about [X] is.

    But you wouldn't call [X] a meme by itself. It's that copying that makes it so. You might make claims about whether [X] was important information or useless and you might expand on its spread as an insight into the culture, but no matter what [X] actually is, it's spread might still be considered a meme.
    Last edited by Tziva; 2011-08-29 at 04:20 PM.
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  13. #13
    The Lightbringer Simulacrum's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Metalogic View Post
    I can't really see why the mere fact that something is getting copied is all that matters. While technically true, how does that explain anything about the world? I'm assuming that Dawkins was trying to do a bit more than just coining a new word in '76.

    I think there's an analogy here with computer data; we wouldn't say that "A bit is information. The physical medium which is used to store or transmit it is not important.", would we? Of course not, because without a way to store and transmit bits, they're useless to us.

    Furthermore, which pieces of information count as memes, and which do not? You have to answer what, and possibly how, in order to answer this. And if all pieces of information are memes, why not just use the word "information"?
    It's true that one of the criticisms of 'meme theory' is that it sort of includes all information that people share with each other. Though simply calling memes "information" would be too broad, as this would include all information, not merely information exchanged between people.

  14. #14
    Scarab Lord Howard Moon's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Metalogic View Post
    I can't really see why the mere fact that something is getting copied is all that matters. While technically true, how does that explain anything about the world? I'm assuming that Dawkins was trying to do a bit more than just coining a new word in '76.
    Memes were the topic of only one of the chapters on a book about genes. Dawkin's theory was that ideas copy themselves and propagate within culture in a similar way as genes copy themselves and propagate within a biome. If you are interested, you can actually read the whole chapter here, though I really recommend reading the whole book.
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  15. #15
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    Also remember that if the young ones do not know the real meaning of meme, then the future meaning of meme will be what it is considers to be of these young ones!
    Quote Originally Posted by Imadraenei View Post
    Okay, so if they add something new, then people will just start bitching about how the new feature/gameplay options is either a waste of time or will ruin/is ruining WoW. If they don't add something new, people bitch and moan about how the game is the same ol' same ol' and how it's dying.

    Screw you guys, I'm going home.

  16. #16
    Mechagnome champ3000's Avatar
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    Words have different meanings. I can say a meme is a demotivational poster. I can say a meme is Coca-Cola branding. What is your point here? People say "cool."

    "That is cool, man."

    "Did you know that cool also refers to a temperature?"

    "Wow, my mind has been blown."
    "Where we have strong emotions, we're liable to fool ourselves."
    -Carl Sagan

  17. #17
    I think you're misunderstanding a little bit. When I say all that matters is the fact it's being transmitted and not what is being transmitted, I mean that with regards to meeting the definition of a meme.
    That's fine; I'm ok with coining a new word. My issue is with the field of "memetics", and how Dawkins, et al. use the word as if it's cutting-edge science. I view the word "meme" in much the same way that people view the word "blog" - a pop-culture, layman's use is fine; but there's really not a rigorous scientific definition (at least not that I've seen).

    But you wouldn't call [X] a meme by itself. It's that copying that makes it so. You might make claims about whether [X] was important information or useless and you might expand on its spread as an insight into the culture, but no matter what [X] actually is, it's spread might still be considered a meme.
    I think this puts what a meme is into kind of a grey area. Is X itself a meme (after it has been spread), or is the actual spreading of X the meme? According to Dawkins, examples of memes are "...tunes, ideas, catch-phrases, clothes fashions, ways of making pots or of building arches." This points toward the information itself being a meme. However, does this information have to be stored in at least two "containers" (minds) at all times, lest it cease to be a meme?

    What if I wrote a computer script to generate strings of three random words from a dictionary, then copy these strings to other computers - all the while making sure no human has viewed the strings? Can we consider these strings to be memes, or must the "containers" be conscious?

    Dawkin's theory was that ideas copy themselves and propagate within culture in a similar way as genes copy themselves and propagate within a biome. If you are interested, you can actually read the whole chapter here, though I really recommend reading the whole book.
    I actually have read it, and found it fascinating; until he started talking about memes. The whole idea just doesn't seem to be backed up well enough to be anything more than a buzzword of sorts. This is fine, I guess, but it doesn't really seem to have a place in any scientific work. That's my only real gripe with the idea. It just irks me a bit when Dawkins, Dennett, etc. keep discussing them.

    I also think the analogy to genes is a bit misleading. First, (I mentioned this earlier) it seems impossible to do cladistics (organization based on heredity) with memes. How could we possibly track the heredity of memes, given that ideas not only mix with each other much more readily than genetic information, but also frequently appear "out of thin air"? We'd have to organize memes with phenetics (organization based on similarity). To do even that, we would have to rigidly apply attributes to ideas - and how would we do that?

    Second, while memes may be transmitted from person to person, genes really aren't transmitted in the same way - alleles are. Let's take an example gene, allele, and meme, and see what happens:

    Gene - hair color
    Allele - red hair
    Meme - building houses with stone

    There seems to be something missing here; namely that the meme seems more analogous to the allele, but there seems to be no gene counterpart. We could say that the memetic counterpart to the gene is something like "different ways to build houses", but that's just another meme. We'd have one meme analogous to an allele, and another meme analogous to a gene. Seems kind of iffy, and makes it so you can't really fully understand memetics by understanding genetics.

    To wrap this up and get back on topic, though...barring any kind of rigorous scientific theory of memes, maybe it's ok if people use the word to refer only to internet trends and image macros. It's not really comparable to the many cases on the internet of people misusing words like "evolution" and "proof". Yes, the original meaning of "meme" was what you said in the OP. But if "meme" isn't a scientific term, does it matter if the meaning changes because people start using it differently? To use an example from online gaming, the word "noob" originally meant nothing more than a newcomer to a game or an inexperienced player, and wasn't disparaging at all. Nowadays, it's pretty much just an insult directed at a bad player. The meaning changed - maybe the meaning of "meme" is changing too. Why should we strive to keep the original meaning?

  18. #18
    Quote Originally Posted by Xebu View Post
    I would find it unfortunate if the first thing that came into my grandchildren's mind when thinking of the word "meme", were the picture of a lolcat.
    Why? Is the first thing that pops in your head when thinking of the word "automobile" a Model T? Probably not. You probably think of a more modern car, perhaps even the one you currently drive, because that's how you are most familiar with. It doesn't mean you think an automobile is limited to that.

    I honestly wasn't aware that people thought things like philosoraptor and lolcat were the full scope of what defines a meme.

  19. #19
    Banned Ms Andry's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Drekmen View Post
    For me, a meme is a recurring internal Internet joke. That's all what it is for me.
    Yeah same. Isn't that basically what the TC is saying? Or did I miss the point.

    I might... have skimmed through some of it. I mean, I scrolled down and saw someone say cat videos and it made me think of keyboard cat and well

  20. #20
    Scarab Lord Howard Moon's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by champ3000 View Post
    Words have different meanings. I can say a meme is a demotivational poster. I can say a meme is Coca-Cola branding. What is your point here? People say "cool."

    "That is cool, man."

    "Did you know that cool also refers to a temperature?"

    "Wow, my mind has been blown."
    Great example. If you met someone who didn't know that "cool" also refers to temperature (given that english is their first language), would you consider them ignorant/uneducated? I would.
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