When you hear the word “meme” you think of funny images that are passed around on the internet. Many of the pictures are the same, but the captions change and we share them with each other to help embody how we all feel. The concept of a meme is much larger than just funny web based pictures though.
Many of us who live on the web love making and sharing these to tell how we feel and promote things in our lives. For myself, I just recently took part in a history themed weekend workshop for teachers on the USS Hornet and I found myself flooding my Twitter with memes about this event. Here is one of these:
But the story of memes is an interested one.
“The story of memes is crucial to the understanding of digital culture, and not only as a characteristic of an Internet subculture, but as a cultural artifact that is gaining new meaning and function as it is breaking more and more into the mainstream”
This is from an interesting research paper about memes and culture which you can find here
The term meme itself was proposed by Richard Dawkins in 1976, basing the word on the Ancient Greek word “mīmēma” meaning 'something imitated’. It is this imitation which defines memes. Dawkins writes that memes “denote all non-genetic behaviour and cultural ideas that are passed on from person to person”. In the internet-connected world today we often view memes as simply funny images that are passed around but they really are the modern equivalent of the water cooler.
A newer definition from Peter Davison in 2009 says a meme is “a piece of culture, typically a joke, which gains influence through online transmission”. They truly are reflections of our culture and are very interesting to study. Since these memes reflect our culture it is us, every day people, who create and share these.
The infographic at the end of this post is a little dated and I edited out some of the more adult related memes, but it helps tell the story of how memes have exploded on the internet and in our culture. And I know I am "old" when I remember the Dancing Baby on Ally McBeal and having me kids all go to the hampster dance web site in our school's computer lab
For another reading on memes, here is a more recent blog post titled "What Are Internet Memes and Where Did They Come From?" from @lifewire
Lastly, if you would like to have your students make their own memes, you can find many sites on the web. I have created a Google Slides deck where they can create their own in a more safer and secure environment. If you would like this file, just open this link. These can be a creative and fun way for your students to express themselves and, in the end, learn how to take part in this meme culture.
Special thanks to Mrs. Michelle Hutton here in Rocklin Unified who had her kids do this very same idea with her sixth graders to tell how they felt at the end of the school year.