“Meme” is one of those words that has its origins in biology. This meme comes from Richard Dawkins’ 1976 book “The Selfish Gene.” At the time of writing, Dawkins didn’t know about DNA, but he still knew what a gene was. He imagined genes as little bits of computer code passed down through generations, making copies of themselves while changing slightly every time. So, memes are like genes spread through populations by imitation. That means your favorite songs or hashtags are memes, too, not just cute cat pictures on Facebook (although they’re also mostly memes.)
Memes get particularly interesting when you apply them to people instead of music videos. On an average day at college, I’ll spend a couple of hours on Reddit, have lunch with some friends who post “u up?” on Snapchat, and watch TV shows from streaming websites. In 90 minutes, I’ve been exposed to memes more times than I usually would in a month. That’s why Dawkins’ idea of the selfish gene seems so personal – my genes spread themselves around the college by saying, “I’m u up,” which means more copies of me running around this semester.
So, it may seem weird that there are rules for meme etiquette at all, but memes can still be fake. So, if you need a list of things you must know about memes before your next RickRoll or TFW, here’s an official guide. Contact Meme Scout for more info.
Memes aren’t just jokes anymore. A meme is anything that can be passed around an internet community. This includes photos, videos, hashtags, inside jokes – even entire websites. And many memes are more than just jokes – they’re immediate points of connection between the people who use them.
“You know what I mean” isn’t a part of meme language. If you use a phrase like “u up?” or “that feeling when” you’ll experience two things immediately: 1) Everyone already uses those phrases all the time, and 2) Nobody will have any idea what you’re talking about unless they have the same reference frame as you do. The point of sharing memes is to express something about yourself to other people who understand them, too, so you should always limit yourself to the things that everybody immediately understands when they see them.
Memes aren’t for outsiders. If you’re not in on a meme, it’s best for everyone if you just move along and don’t worry about it (unless someone specifically asks for your opinion). The point of memes is that they’re shorthand – like cat photos or inside jokes; their only value comes from how many other people are using them simultaneously.
Nobody has any idea who started most memes. It could’ve been an amateur comedian uploading something to YouTube or a TV show promoting its next episode with a teaser image. Still, unlike Beyonce songs, there isn’t really one source for most memes these days. That means there’s no perfect or canonical version of any meme. You can have your own opinion on which meme is the best, but nobody’s going to agree with you unless they already think it’s the best as well.
Memes aren’t out of control. People use them every day, and no one has ever gotten hurt by a meme, so there isn’t really much reason to worry about what people are doing with them all the time. At worst, a meme will seem uncool someday and stop being used for a while before coming back later in a different form. It may take years for that to happen, though – this year, “I’m u up” is suddenly everywhere, but last year memes were all about grumpy Cat and Dog, and a year before that, it was “that feel when….”
Memes always have less power than you think they do. It can be easy to see a meme as something more important than it really is. A lot of political stories the past couple of years have been about how an internet joke or hashtag has destroyed someone’s career, but that’s never actually happened. In nearly every case, the person whose career was supposedly ruined by a meme didn’t actually stand for anything important in the first place, so there weren’t many sacrifices involved in dropping them from public life. And if a meme can make a politician lose an election, it probably doesn’t matter very much at all.