The term meme is often used today to refer to a trend that spreads over the Internet. This trend can be in the form of media, such as an image, video or audio, or it can be in the form of behavior. One example of behavior would be speaking or writing in the cat talk of the Lolcats. This, however, is not the limit of the meaning of a meme. Memes are part of a complex and controversial theory about the spread of ideas through society.
The word meme was invented in 1976 when a zoologist, Richard Dawkins, used it to explain how cultural evolution works in his book The Selfish Gene. He explains that evolution is driven by genes, but the evolution of ideas is driven by memes. He goes on to say that genes are transmitted to others via reproduction, but memes are transmitted to others via imitation. Just as the collection of all genes is the genome, the collection of all memes is culture.
Examples of memes range from the large to the small and include the following: jokes, alphabets, language, songs, clothes, architecture and catch-phrases.
One of the defining characteristics of a meme is that it reproduces at a reliable rate until it saturates a fair percentage of the population. Memes seem to take on a life of their own, operating independently of conscious choices. Just as humans cannot control their genes, they also cannot control memes.
It is often taken for granted that memes are short-lived and trivial bits of information, but when you consider that such ideas as language and even religion are types of memes, then their true impact, magnitude and potential longevity can be understood.
Some proponents of meme theory argue that memes have much more power and are not limited to changes only in ideas. These faction has proposed that memes have shaped the physiology of the brain to expand its faculties for abstract thought and communication.
Many people do not like the concept of memes because it takes away the last vestiges of human free will. If meme theory is true, people are not in control of their own ideas and culture. It is just something that happens and spreads through factors out of our control from one person to the next like a virus.
Posted 3037 day ago