There is an understanding among the media scholars that viral media such as meme has similar ideas to the human biology. The ideas are that it can self-replicate, spread/transmit, and become viral.
In reading If It Doesn’t Spread, It’s Dead by Henry Jenkins, he proposed the Spreadable model for viral media—to put an emphasis on the activity of the consumers! The consumers are also seen as the multipliers of those viral media objects. He also proposed a grass-root circulation of the content instead of the centralized one that is put in the hands of media producers.
In today’s blog post, I will be talking about meme. This is how Google defined “Meme.”
What I see in this definition are two common denominators: human and culture. Personally, I see the Internet as a culture itself; yet, it is not difficult to hear the other side of this argument: it is just a tool. However, we won’t be getting into this argument. We will take it as a culture in this blog post.
Nowadays, when one talks about meme; everyone would first instantly refer to those viral funny images/GIFs that travelling around from sites to sites. For examples, the troll faces. According to Memes: The New Replicators by Richard Dawkins, some memes stay alive longer in the meme pool because they have won the attention (brain space) and time usage of the viewers than their rival memes. In today world, it’s easy to say that memes have become common cultural references for people. The Internet has facilitates a faster rate for information to travel through different locations. Hence, it has inevitably creates a mutual culture across continents. For instance, a troll face reference can be understood not just in the USA but also in other countries that English is not their native tongue. To Dawkins, a meme spreads due to its acceptance to the population that understood it. Yet, a notion that something spreads, and something survives might not be the same notion. Both Dawkins and Jenkins believed that for an idea to survive longer, it needs to get referenced even long after it spreads. An example of this could be found on knowyoumeme.com. In the popular meme section, we could find many memes that were very viral, but no longer popular (E.g. Brown Twitter Bird). Some of them are originated from a special event at the time it appeared (e.g. Inception). Yet, we still could find many memes that are continuously getting referenced (E.g. Like a Boss). Thus, it is understandable why meme could be compared to genes. They multiply, repurposed, and adapt to the environment. The one that survives is the one that easiest to modify for different communities’ references (e.g. troll memes).
Coming back to the notion of time that Dawkins mentioned. With a faster rate of transmission, we have a much larger amount of information to digest. Therefore, a meme needs to be even more particular and creative to catch our attention. An example for this is: I remember when I was an IB student back in high school. An Internet meme called: “You know you are in IB when…” got popular among the IB schools. It was a very long meme. Yet, most IB students I know sat through the whole things, and shared it around to other IB students. We still reference that meme now. Yet, the people that are not in IB program would have no idea what we talk about because this meme was so particular to only IB students. However, these days, there is another meme called “What people think I do/ What I really do…” and it is a different story. People pass it around even though the meme might not particularly be about them. They pass it around because of someone they know of, or just feel like it’s true. These people are the connectors of those bow-tie networks. It is how meme makes it across different communities. What is the difference between these two memes? There is no visual in the first one. The second one has visual, which captures the attention better. Moreover, the second is short, only 6 frames of picture and short descriptions. Because of information overload, people start to only skim through what they read; thus, that’s why the second meme has become extremely viral.
So what is the point? We know that the human factor in the culture is what really decide whether the object gets spread around. Thus, like Jenkins suggested, if a company wants to get its message across to different flatforms, it needs to put the emphasis on the activity of consumers. There are several things it needs to remember: not only its message need to be strikingly different from its rival, it also need to focus on those connectors in the bowtie networks. They are the one that would facilitate the message to different network communities.