The notion of a meme has also flourished in that uncovered petri dish known as the World Wide Web, finding so hospitable an environment because of the view that the Web is a giant organism, evolving according to as-yet-undiscovered principles.
Whole sites devoted to memes have replicated. Memes have worked their way into Net culture, in news groups like alt.memetics and alt.neo-tech. Memes have inspired some of the longest Web pages on the Internet.
As coined by Richard Dawkins in 1976, memes are essentially ideas that replicate and evolve through imitation. Thanks to the Internet, these mutating concepts have become a modern staple, most recently with their rapid rise in popularity across campuses.
Media and students alike have been expressing their astonishment at the flash flood of college humor this month, as PBS notes. According to KnowYourMeme.com, the momentum started with Florida International University of Miami when the school launched its Facebook meme page on Oct. 1, 2011.
What used to be an amusing byproduct of Internet use has mutated into something horrible: an insatiable parasite that impairs its host's judgment, rendering it totally useless. Instead of acting as an organic cultural touchstone, the modern meme -- from LOL, which hasn't been used to signify physical laughter since 1997, to Lolcats -- now sucks the joy out of our interconnectedness.
So, our New Year’s resolution is to spend more time on meme-starters 4chan and Reddit, to ensure that we don’t miss the next “Scumbag Steve.” Some memes need hardly more than a hilarious photo and some overlaid text to take off – but can they keep survive the Internet’s fickleness? We have a hunch only the newsworthy ones will be more than just a forgotten relic of 2011.
We can all agree that memes as we know them wouldn't be possible without the communities which create them through endless modification.
Another thing we can all agree on: memes and related internet culture are now mainstream. When ROFLCon started in 2008, memes were still for a niche (if very large) audience. There are great reasons for that. Memes don't explain themselves very well — you have to know how to read them, and you have to look at several examples before you "get" the joke.
The closing panel discussion at ROFLCon II was “Mainstreaming the Web,” and it included Ben Huh, the Lolcat entrepreneur; Christopher Poole, the 4Chan founder; and Kenyatta Cheese of Know Your Meme, among others. The discussion was surprisingly earnest. (And despite some rumors about troublemakers from /b/ who were planning to disrupt things, it was almost disappointingly civilized.) There was musing about whether memes signify a subculture and, if so, whether that could last; speculation about the nature of the meme consumer that would have fit in easily at a more traditional Web confab; and audience feedback making the inevitable suggestion that mainstream attention is ruining awesome meme making.
Like Kanye West at the MTV Video Music Awards, memes have burst onto the internet and refuse to leave, no matter how annoying you might find them. Before, you had to have some minor knowledge of Photoshop or at least know the url of a meme generator site to contribute. Now, all you need is Google+.
But the Western English-speaking world does not hold a monopoly on Internet memes; every online sphere has its own collection of memes, including China. And some memes have an added function in China’s heavily censored Internet: vehicle for political critique. Design strategist and meme researcher An Xiao Mina, speaking this past weekend at ROFLcon, a convention about Internet memes at MIT in Cambridge, Mass., called them “the street art of the social web.”
William (not his real name) is somewhat hardcore. He insists that he is part of the original Anonymous—like a Roman Catholic who sees himself as being part of the “one true church.” He says this part of Anonymous started it all, laying the foundations for the current nebulous community and injecting it with all the necessary elements of subculture: the memes and the lingo, the profound social acceptance and the disdain for authority, the intent to harass people for fun or “lulz.” Things that made it attractive and fun.
Back in the day—like, last year and before—the 4Chan’s “/b/rothers”, as they call themselves, got famous for their hacking, and also inventing and spreading some of the Net's most loved and hated visual memes, including Lolcats (those pictures of cats engaging in human activities with clever captions) and Rickrolling (a user clicks on a link they hope is bringing them to some controversial footage, like Michelle Obama saying "whitey," but actually goes to a music video for 1987 Rick Astley song "Never Gonna Give You Up").