September 20th, 2008

3 Ways Memes Can **** You Up and Infect Your Mind

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Arrr!
Internet meme LOLCat

The song played that is easiest to remember will be a hit. The politician that promises the most gets elected. The Youtube video which creates the strongest reaction in the least amount of time will become popular. What am I talking about? Memes.

Meme: Any idea or behavior that can pass from one person to another by learning or imitation. Examples include thoughts, ideas, theories, gestures, practices, fashions, habits, songs, and dances.

Memes spread through human culture similar to a contagious virus. As the meme is repeated and re-encoded in the minds of other individuals, it evolves. Memes that do the job with the least amount of energy will survive.

Meme evolution is not necessarily to our benefit

Memes have a life of their own, and the means by which they evolve is not necessarily in our best interest- the successful meme is copied and spread whether or not it’s in the interest of the meme creator. A good example of a successful meme is the evolution of projectile weapons, which started with arrows, then bolts, catapulted stones, cannonballs, explosive bombs, and nuclear bombs. The amount of destructive power has increased exponentially over time, but there is no evidence that a new weapon actually enhances the survival of the people who created it.

Memes can **** you up and infect your mind if you let them

Technology is helping memes evolve and spread at a more rapid pace than ever before. Successful memes are more easily copied, while unsuccessful memes are not copied. Due to technology, the modern day man is more vulnerable to being infected by memes. Here are 3 ways this happens:

1) Internet Memes

Dancing baby. The hamster dance. LOLcat. These are all examples of Internet memes. Are they a fun part of Internet culture, or a parasitical waste of your time? To answer this question, you must first ask yourself how much you value your time.

As your time is limited, it is important that you are using it to get what you want out of life, versus letting memes use your time to propagate themselves. If you could look back at your life, how memorable would your time spent on Youtube, Wikipedia, Twitter, or this blog post be? When you follow Internet memes for hours, how much of that time is contributing to your well-being, versus parasitically draining your energy?

Musician and Internet sensation Tay Zonday (creator of Internet meme Chocolate Rain) sings about the time we spend on the Internet:

So every day I swear
I’m gonna go to bed at like eleven.
And all of a sudden its 4AM . . .
And I was just watching Youtube and
reading Wikipedia for five hours.
It’s like MAN . . . you ask me the
next day. I can’t even remember
what I was doin. Crazy.
-Tay Zonday

2) Television Memes

Sensationalism. Sitcoms. Soap operas. With television, memes can be transmitted almost instantaneously to people throughout the world. Generally, television makes viewers feel very relaxed, but also significantly less active, alert, mentally focused, satisfied, or creative compared with other ways of spending time.

Like a drug, television initially provides a positive experience, but research suggests that the longer one watches it in one setting, the worse one’s mood progressively gets. 90’s hip-hop group Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy sing about this in “Television the Drug of the Nation”:

How do you feel after watching television? Was your time spent doing something rewarding, or wasted? Do you use television to get what you want out of it, or do television memes use you to propagate themselves?

3) Materialism Memes

Houses. Cars. Clothes. As man looks on his material possessions, he becomes deluded into thinking he’s a big deal- the objects become symbols for expansion of the self. It is easy for man to spend his whole life accumulating property without end just to feed his ego.

Each of us has needs for shelter, food, and clothing. But this doesn’t explain the houses of today, which represent more of the evolution of memes than to our personal well-being. Similarly, expensive clothing and restaurants are used to make an impression on the minds of other people, versus the simple needs of keeping us warm and replenishing our energy.

A powerful example of a materialism meme is the automobile. After first buying a car, you have positive feelings, such as freedom, power, and pride of ownership. The car becomes a symbol for the expansion of the self. Then the car ownership begins to drain your energy- you worry about payments, upkeep, insurance, accidents, and so on. But still, the meme continues to evolve and replicate, with new car models coming out each year for future owners.

A scene from the movie Fight Club discussing how “the things you own end up owning you”:

Do you use memes to get what you want, or do memes infect your mind and replicate themselves?

Do you use memes to get what you want and meet your personal goals? Or do you become a meme replicator, with hours of your time being wasted as the outcome? Internet, television, and materialism memes are really just the tip of the iceberg- memes can drain our energy in all areas of life. After capturing our attention, memes will continue reproducing themselves whether it is good for us or not. If we are to take control of our lives, we must get out of autopilot mode and use memes for our own ends, versus letting them parasitically drain our energy.

Creative Commons License photo credit: cjbnc

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