Taking a Brief Look at the Fascinating History of Memes
How many of you hated Kim Kardashian (at least a little) when she told us to get up and work? Did you think about getting wool mittens after Bernie Sanders’ appearance at Biden’s inauguration? Is anyone still playing Wordle?
Memes have a powerful effect on our culture and community. But before memes were pictures of macaque monkeys or tweets about chaotic pop culture moments, they were simply considered to be units of information shared by a culture.
The history of memes is fascinating. Believe it or not, their existence began well before the era of “Charlie Bit My Finger” and “Leave Britney Alone.”
The term “meme” was coined in 1976 in Richard Dawkins’ book “The Selfish Gene.” But centuries before that, the meme-sharing phenomenon was already a prominent human behavior.
The History of Memes
Dawkins, an evolutionary biologist, noted that people like to share ideas and repeat information that we’ve seen. That’s why we have memes. Dawkins wanted to name the “unit of cultural transmission” or “cultural imitation” that he observed in society.
He decided on the word “meme” because it incorporated the French word “même,” meaning “same,” and the Greek word “mimoúmai,” meaning “to imitate.”
Dawkins liked the word “meme” because it was one syllable, like “gene,” and it was also related to the word “memory.” But why did Dawkins feel like it was important to name this human behavior?
Because we do it all the time, we like to tell our friends about it when something dramatic happens. Sometimes that story becomes a joke or references repeated for years. Nowadays, these exchanges often happen on social media.
But far before Dawkins coined the term “meme,” the phenomenon was prevalent in society. D. Andrew Price, the head of content at Memes.com, said it best when he said, “A meme is just an idea that rips through the public consciousness… [It’s] existed literally forever.”
As early as 3 B.C., memes were plastered on mosaics in Ancient Greece, telling stories about the culture at the time. It’s safe to say that there were types of memes as soon as there was language.
How the Internet Influenced Meme Culture
Alright, so maybe our great-grandparents had memes of their own, but they were quite different from the ones we see today. The first Internet memes had the classic top and bottom text.
They were made very simply, and since this was the mid-2000s we’re talking about, people used Microsoft Paint to create them. Once YouTube exploded in 2007, some of the best memes began to take off. Vines (aka the original TikTok) popularized the short video format of memes. Now reels are a huge part of social media content.
Today, everyone makes memes. There’s no need for Microsoft Paint to make free memes. There are websites that provide you with any meme template you’re looking for.
Memes in 2020 and Beyond
The cool thing about the history of memes is that they tell stories and often define different eras over time. The countless memes about 2020 will forever encapsulate that grim period of existence.
Will we want to remember that? I’m not sure.
Either way, it feels good to be a part of the conversation. Have you ever made a meme yourself? If so, what are your favorite kinds of memes to make?
Let us know your thoughts below.