The Science Behind the Meme

Although I knew that we were coming up to this point in the course, the point when we move beyond discussing how social media can be used for so much good in society – communication, literacy, networking, and simplifying every day tasks.  But social media can also rear it’s ugly head and be used for degrading individuals, often at their own hand.

Memes, according to Susan Blackmore, are simply pieces of information that are copied with variation and passed on from person to person.  A meme can be something as simple as earrings – those of us who wear earrings didn’t invent earrings, we copied or propigating the idea of having earrings and use the for our personal decoration.  Memes (memetic) are based upon genes relying upon replication and transcription, it is essential a biological process which allows us our language to evolve and adapt to what we desire.  Susan Blackmore’s video below really allows us to think about a different view on memes and times (memes driven out of technology), watch until 13:30.

Now, if the above video was too scientifically buried in Darwinism for you, try a lighter explanation:  Sheldon and Amy talking about engaging in the social sciences discuss Richard Dawkins meme theory – suggesting that memes are like living things that seek to reproduce using human beings as their host – like a virus.  Sheldon and Amy hypothesize about memetic epidemiology regarding human experimentation, they set out to study the effect that memes have on their social story.  Enjoy!

From the above videos, we learn that memes are not limited to pictures with wording added to it like the one below.

chemistry cat

Now, memes really can be used for good.  Alec Couros tweeted out an “awesome use of memes” with this Delta airline video:

Memes also are a powerful visual literacy tool as they allow the learner to:

Process and make meaning of information presented in an image.

Communicate our own ideas through principles of design.

Create our own messages that capture our visual thinking in a way that conceptualizes problems to given solutions.

As read in her post, What does it all Meme?, Kay Olden re-iterated to above points noting that memes are tools which can be used  for engagement (like a hook), information literacy, and allow learners to gain a sense or a critical awareness of their understandings of world events.

Just as there is a flip side to a coin, there is a flip side to the use of memes.  We know that memes have the potential to be viral, and just like a virus that infects a human being, a meme can have a devastating effect as it begins to spread throughout social media circles, replicating and transforming. Ashley VanPevenage’s make-up artist posted a photo on social media of Ashely before and after make-up, this photo ended up going viral, a large amount of memes were created using her picture, almost all of which were negative causing Ashley’s self-confidence to decrease.  Below is another example of a meme that ruined Taiwanese model Heidi Yeh’s career and had serious impacts on her personal life.

plastic surgery meme

Photo credit: Plastic Surgery Ruined Models Life

In the above two examples, both girls fought back, but it leaves me wondering, how many people who have had their personal pictures turned into memes fought back?  It really isn’t that shocking if a picture on social media can have as devastating effects as the above two examples are, that other forms of social media can have equally devastating effect or worse.  Remember the Sextortion of Amanda Todd?

Amanda Todd

Photo credit:  The Fifth Estate

And to bring this blog to an end, I must come full circle from where I began and end as I began, deeply rooted in science.  Please watch below and reflect on Richard Dawkins talk in 2013 at Cannes talking about memes are mutations in the mind.


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