I haven’t posted a status on Facebook since I was about 14, yet I always check my news feed. I follow a couple of thousand people on Instagram, but my news feed isn’t filled with people I particularly know. I don’t follow hundreds of celebrities on twitter like I used to when I was a teen Fangirl, yet Twitter is my most visited app every day.
So, what am I using my social media platform for? Well isn’t it obvious… MEMES.
My twitter direct messages are constant threads of myself and my friends sharing the latest memes with each other, most of my following on Instagram are meme pages and I only use Facebook to tag my friends in 100 posts a day with the comment “me.” I see them daily, relate to them more than anything and spend my time looking through them when I should be doing something else. Sound familiar?
Memes are part of our culture now, a way of life, a cure to our sadness. They’re how we communicate online and offline as meme quotes become a normal part of our vocab. So where did it all come from, what’s the appeal and why do we create and share them so aggressively?
We can thank evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins for introducing the world to memes way back in 1976, where he coined the term in his book “The Selfish Gene.” Science is not my strong point so don’t quote me on this, but here’s what I gathered. Dawkins defined memes as a unit for carrying cultural ideas or behaviour, similar to how genes carry genetic information from one generation to the next. According to Dawkins, when one person imitates another, a meme is passed to the imitator, similar to the way blue eyes, skin tones and so on are passed from parents to children through genes. So the cultural ideas and satirical posts we post online are sort of like tiny bits of cultural DNA that we share with each other over social media.
So memes have been around for quite a while, but they weren’t always the way we know and love them today. Memes used to be simply playing a song, sharing art and old fashioned non internet-based stuff. Memes as we know them are digital files made especially for the internet including combination of images, video’s, gifs and hash tags. Typically they’re a funny photo or clips from a popular television show, interview or vine (miss you vine, rest in peace) which users add a humorous, satirical or usually ironic catchphrase or caption to then share it with their friends and absolute strangers on Twitter, Facebook & Instagram. And we love each other for it.
So why are we so obsessed? Communication researchers have legit spent time & money looking into why we spend so much of our precious time scrolling through memes rather than you know doing something more productive e.g. getting our degree’s.
We’re all in this together
As a generation who are so insecure and lonely that it hurts, feeling like we belong is what we crave, and memes do exactly that. Sharing the latest memes with your friends makes you feel like the part of something, it makes us feel intelligent (about the stupidest things), funny and in the know. Following the latest meme trends are conversation starters, become inside jokes between friends and are even a way to keep up with old ones. Personally, as ashamed as I am to say, I mightn’t find the energy to text a friend that I haven’t talked to in a while, but you can sure as hell bet I’ll tag them in a meme that reminds me of them and if that’s not real love I don’t know what is. Think of how your Ma connects with all her friends over recipes, cleaning tips and Cliff Richard. We connect over memes.
Je Parle Meme
My first language in English incase you hadn’t gathered. I have a GCSE in French and could probably still recite my Oral as I still have PTSD from it. I’ll throw a Dia dhuit and Slán about the odd time. But if I was asked what my second language was – em, does Meme count?
Don’t know what to say to make your friend feel better on a bad day? There’s a meme for it. Get into an awkward tiff with your friend and don’t know what to say to break the ice? There’s a meme for it. Just had the most horrifyingly embarrassing moment and you can’t even put into words to tell your friends about it? There’s a meme for that too. Believe me, I’ve used plenty of them. There’s a meme for just about every mood, reaction or scenario that could possibly happen that sometimes you don’t even have to use words to communicate with your friends, just send them a meme and they’ll know exactly what you mean. Although it may appear ridiculously anti-social, It’s our generations favourite way to communicate and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
They make us feel good, even when we feel our worst
Plain and simple. Memes make us feel good. They make us laugh, they make the worst possible situation seem not as bad and help us laugh through the pain. I could be a hour away from a deadline with a final paragraph and conclusion still to go, but if there’s a meme relatable to that you sure as hell bet I’m gonna laugh, send it into my group chat with the caption “me rn” and I’ll be laughing when I really shouldn’t be.
And who else feels good when they see a meme about a unfortunate situation on Facebook, and see that loads of your mutual friends have liked it, tagged their friends and related to it too. All of a sudden you don’t feel as bad for laying in bed all day when you have 101 things to do, using the last of your wages on a night out or the fact that it’s nearly summer and you forgot to work on your summer body. For the 5th year in a row. It’s as though memes put a hold on the chaos that is our generation.
21st Century Education
Just think of some of the most viral memes over the last couple of years. What’s often common context behind them? Politics. Don’t get me wrong, our world at the moment is not something to laugh at, even though America could be a satirical sitcom in its own right, yet some of the most pressing political moments in the past 2 years have made the most viral memes. (I wonder why..).
I for one don’t read the news often unless it’s an article on my timeline and I’m sure a lot of you can say the same, you should all pick up the Irish News though, so memes are like tiny little pieces of information to educate us and help even the most naive people understand what’s going on in the world and what ridiculous thing Trump has said that week.
Memes are our lives now. They’re shaping our culture and changing the way we think, act and communicate. They bring us together, take the seriousness out of everyday life and they make me question if any of us are half wise. To sum all my blabbering up memes are class, I love them and I sure as hell hope they don’t go anywhere anytime soon, I’m already sad that I’m seeing less of the tracksuit man on my twitter timeline.
Catherine Maguire is a 3rd year BSc in Communication, Advertising & Marketing student at Ulster University, currently on a placement year at The Irish News. She can be found on Instagram: catherinelauram and LinkedIn: Catherine Maguire