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What does the word 'meme' mean?


The idea of a social 'meme' comes from the scientist Richard Dawkins. In the The Selfish Gene (1976) Dawkins argues that ideas evolve by a process of natural selection.

Just as genes propagate themselves in the gene pool by leaping from body to body via sperms or eggs, so memes propagate themselves in the meme pool by leaping from brain to brain.
 Some have challenged the notion that an idea can 'leap' from 'brain to brain' but the term has become widely used in academic circles - an indication perhaps of the  the application of Darwinism to non-biological areas.

What is an internet meme?
The term 'internet meme' strays some way from Dawkins. It has come to have a very wide and vague use - typically descrbing something something that quickly becomes popular as it spreads by imitation online. Famous examples include the selfie, Harlem Shake and the phrase FAIL


fail – v., n., adj.

a youthful expression to summarize a bad situation or experience.

An internet meme could also be less grandly described as a fad.  With vast numbers now competing for online attention, memes battle for public attention and recognition. For non-celebrities this might be via an amusing caption to a news photograph or a video 'mash-up' of music and image

Most memes are ephemeral and pass into obscurity but a few have survive - a natural selection of sorts. 

Meme= Popular New Idea The word meme is also used to mean a widely accepted new idea. Here BBC Radio 4's Start the Week discuss a 'cultural meme'

Listen!



Darwinian Fairytales: Selfish Genes and Other Fables of Evolution


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