Memes have become a big part of our everyday communication and you can see them basically everywhere. Memes are now a fast way to share humor, knowledge and opinions around the world by using the internet. Just a simple image edit could make millions of people laugh about and share your creation, which is why memes are one of the most influential mediums of today.

What is a meme?

A meme (/miːm/ MEEM) is an idea, behavior, or style that spreads from person to person within a culture. Its purpose is to convey a phenomenon, theme or meaning.

The commonly understood definition of a meme today is anything that is a joke on the internet with little self-deprecation, sarcasm or irony. A meme can be an image, video or text based and can be reproduced by others.

The term ”meme” was originally used in biology. A guy named Richard Dawkins first used it in 1976 in his book The Selfish Gene. Dawkins believed that ideas have the same features (than) genes, which can replicate and transmit themselves, like the memes we know today.

What memes can be considered as one?

First of all it needs a message which is understandable and relatable for others by using commonly shared knowledge or experiences. The second thing is the evolution. A certain meme cannot remain static so it must be remixed by a community of people that embrace it. Thirdly the meme needs to be malleable so people can do their own versions of it while maintaining some details of the original message. And finally a meme has to reach a certain level of popularity and understanding.

The most important part of the meme is its virality, otherwise it is irrelevant.

How did memes develop over time?

It is almost impossible to tell what the first meme of all time was because memes can be basically anything. A good example is the video ‘The Dancing Baby’ from 1996 which is a 3D animation of a baby dancing. Primitive memes were some strange loop videos in the 90’s and they were shared via email.

Memes took flight in the 2000s. It’s generally considered that “white block letter on an image” look are the world’s first memes and also the precursor to what we refer to as the modern meme. Examples of these types of memes are ‘Chuck Norris Facts’ or ‘Philosoraptor’.

But there are also examples of what we would call memes before the internet existed. The first internet meme does not have to be the first meme of all times. The Lord of the Rings-inspired “Frodo Lives” slogan in the 70s is the prime example of a meme before the internet. The term first became popular because of an increased number of readers of the novel and it was frequently used in graffiti’s and t-shirts. It was commonly associated with the hippie movement, too.

Memes as we know them today

Memes changed towards the early 2010’s. Suddenly, memes and pictures posted online were funny and capable of creating emotions other than sadness or despair.

After the meme “top text, bottom text” aka “white block letter on image” came the Rage Comics. These short comics have illustrations that would represent frustrating, ironic or hilarious real-life situations. These comics consist of pre-made faces and were usually edited in Microsoft Paint, so it takes minimal effort in order to create those kind of memes.

Video memes became popular when YouTube was released in 2005. It opened up the door for many more video memes. “Harlem Shake” was one of the most popular video meme of all time.

When social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook started becoming popular, it was easy to share GIFs and images with a large audience. When meme generator websites were founded it got even easier to form memes out of existing templates.

TikTok is now one of the most recent popular places to create memes. In TikTok you can upload short videos that are often so cringy and awkward that it makes them funny.

The future of memes

Memes come and memes go. Nowadays there are so many memes out there that people have trouble keeping up. It’s possible to witness the birth, evolution and death of memes online. But what is the future of memes?

Even if memes seem pointless to some, they have evolved to a form of communication and we cannot deny their cultural significance. In my opinion memes are a good thing because they bring people together and make us think and create things. All of this makes us a community.

Memes will continue to evolve and expand, just as they always have. The methods in which they’re consumed may change and the ability of some to remain relevant may decrease, but nevertheless they’ve taken a foothold in the people’s conscious.

Memes are here to stay.