Yager: Memes facilitate information exchange, growth of ideas

In early November 2009, I came across a concept that changed my definition of the Internet. No. Stop there. It was not pornography. I found the meme. Yes, it was a glorious day. There upon my screen was my first “Philosoraptor.” It was rather funny and as a result, I habitually returned to the website.

Now fast forward to 2012. Memes are everywhere and almost everyone knows what a meme is. OK, some people will still give you a weird look if you mention “Pedobear,” but for the most part, memes have become a part of our culture.

There is, however, a shift – a shift where the boundaries between memes, ideas, and society are dissolving. Although this division may seem inconsequential, this ability to quickly form and adapt ideas will inevitably push our society into a brighter future.

Typically when a person refers to a meme, they really mean text on an image. Memes are, however, so much more than text on images. According to Richard Dawkin’s 1976 book, “The Selfish Gene,” A meme is any idea that spreads and evolves from person to person, much like the common cold or hatred for former Sen. Rick Santorum.

“But how is our society becoming a meme,” you ask? 2011 was a year of records for social media sites, where Reddit reported over two billion page views and over 34 million unique visitors, and Facebook reports over 800 million registered users. With this shear number of people connected online, it has become increasingly easy for a group to form around a memetic idea; groups that eventually powered the Arab Spring, the Occupy movement, and the chastising of Rupert Murdoch and the infamous News Corp. More recently, think back to public reaction surrounding the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA). From Oct. 26, 2011 to Jan. 20, 2012, various websites and millions – yes, millions – of Americans voiced their opposition to the rights-limiting measures.

The important thing to keep in mind is that memes are affecting our society on a grand scale. Ideas themselves are powerful things. An idea can build a civilization, enlighten people and breed intelligence, while at the same time destroy, enslave and dehumanize. It only takes one idea to go from intolerance and hatred to acceptance and friendship. With the proliferation of the meme, it is now known that in a matter of days an idea can coalesce on Facebook, inspire thousands and raise millions of dollars.

So what does this mean for our society? I think it means that we, as citizens of the Internet, will be able to conceive an idea, refine it with the ideas of millions and publish it for societal peer review. From this, we will have ever-improving concepts and thoughts and eventually the cream of the crop will rise as an overwhelming popular opinion.

When this intellectual renaissance of sorts begins, we will no longer be susceptible to bias or intolerance. We will no longer be vulnerable to external influence. Most importantly, we as a society will no longer prey victim to the stagnant ways of the past.