From the excellent Nautilus, like we said:
But trawling the Internet, I found a strange paradox: While memes were everywhere, serious meme theory was almost nowhere. Richard Dawkins, the famous evolutionary biologist who coined the word “meme” in his classic 1976 book, The Selfish Gene, seemed bent on disowning the Internet variety, calling it a “hijacking” of the original term. The peer-reviewed Journal of Memetics folded in 2005. “The term has moved away from its theoretical beginnings, and a lot of people don’t know or care about its theoretical use,” philosopher and meme theorist Daniel Dennett told me. What has happened to the idea of the meme, and what does that evolution reveal about its usefulness as a concept?
It was never a good idea in science.
Rather, the “meme” appealed to pop culture because it saves people the trouble of using correct terminology for different types of ideas – everything is just a “meme” now. Not an idea, a theory a slogan, a buzzword, a policy trial balloon, or …
Terms can then spread virally in part because no one has to think about them much.
From the perspective of serious meme theorists, Internet memes have trivialized and distorted the spirit of the idea. Dennett told me that, in a planned workshop to be held in May 2014, he hopes to “rehabilitate the term in a very precise kind of way” for studying cultural evolution.
According to Dawkins, what sets Internet memes apart is how they are created. “Instead of mutating by random chance before spreading by a form of Darwinian selection, Internet memes are altered deliberately by human creativity,” he explained in a recent video released by the advertising agency Saatchi & Saatchi. He seems to think that the fact that Internet memes are engineered to go viral, rather than evolving by way of natural selection, is a salient difference that distinguishes from other memes—which is arguable, since what catches fire on the Internet can be as much a product of luck as any unexpected mutation.
There are still serious meme theorists? Maybe the real problem is that there are no longer any serious English teachers. Thoughts?
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