Monday, February 27, 2012

Cyberculture and the Rise of the Meme

Although the techy lingo made it sometimes tough to read the Nayar reading about cyberculture, I found it fascinating that the author always made a point to say that all that happens in cyberculture happens in the actual culture. Hrm. Better let the author better explain that.

"Cyberculture, cyberspace, and virtual reality remain deeply embedded in very material conditions." - p. 3

"Cybercultures are driven by material considerations of profit and power, and affect people in their real lives. All this goes to show how technology must always be seen as contextual, and treated as technoculture where meanings, values, and functions are integrally associated with the object. Culture and technology are therefore not distinct but linked." - p. 6

For some reason, while reading this, memes kept popping into my mind. If you're not familiar with memes, here's what Wikipedia has to say:

A meme (play /ˈmm/; meem)[1]) is "an idea, behavior or style that spreads from person to person within a culture."[2] A meme acts as a unit for carrying cultural ideas, symbols or practices, which can be transmitted from one mind to another through writing, speech, gestures, rituals or other imitable phenomena. Supporters of the concept regard memes as cultural analogues to genes in that they self-replicate, mutate and respond to selective pressures.[3]

In my mind, the definition to meme is found at the website Basically, people take pictures and put funny captions on them. Yep, that's pretty much it. But the fascinating thing about memes is the culture that has developed around them. There are now over 20 niche sites branched off of LOLdogs, LOLcats, etc. There are also more colorful memes, such as Bachelor and Bachelorette Frog, Good Guy Greg, Depression Dog, and Paranoid Parrot, just to name a few. Some people--like my husband, for example--check membase as often as they check their Facebook account. It truly is a cyberculture.

The interesting thing about memes is that, for the most part, they express elements of the human experience, things that we can all relate to because we've experienced them, too. For example, one of the first memes I ever saw was about Google-ing a symptom you are experiencing and thinking, based on the search results, that you're going to die. Because--and let's be honest--who doesn't Google migraine symptoms and think they're going to die of a brain tumor?

Paranoid Parrot Googles "headache."


  1. Hi Betsey,

    I think meme's are an excellent example of what Nayar is describing. I found myself just last week explaining these to my husband. He was on facebook and commented on the frequency of these now and the lack of original thought among his fb friends. I just offhandedly said, "those are memes. They have a name." His response? "Of course you would know that."
    But, I get irritated at how many of them are showing up on my timeline too. That's why I prefer twitter...

  2. I find memes very amusing (especially LOL cats), but I can't figure where the tendency to use bad grammar and broken English with them came from? Did anything you read explain that Betsey? (I have no clue, as I just found out they are actually called memes thanks to your post!)
    Even though they are amusing I wonder if their popularity as well as the prevalence of text-messaging language will have a lasting impact on how the English language will evolve? Text-messaging language scares me because I see today's youth using it so much that I begin to wonder if the line between that and what we know was proper English is beginning to blur? I have always felt creeped out by this possibility (in an Orwellian sort of way) because it makes me think of language being controlled in order to increase efficiency and save time.

    1. Interesting note, Stephanie. A special language seems to have developed in the meme cyberculture (a la I CAN HAZ HOTDOG NAO?), and I also have to admit that it gets a tidge annoying.

      When I first read your post, though, I thought you were referring to the overwhelming use of incorrect grammar on meme sites! The ever-popular "your/you're" and "there/they're/their" battles are alive and well on memebase, and I do sometimes wonder what the increasing misuse of proper grammar will mean for the future of the English language.