Without going into too technical of a definition here, a meme is “an idea, behavior, or style that spreads from person to person within a culture.” With the advent of the internet technologies, particularly those that you can hold in your hand, ideas can spread more quickly than at any point in history. The most-recent popular example of a “viral” meme is probably the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. I even saw today that Homer Simpson took it; look for the brief Olaf the Snowman cameo.
This post, however, is not about the Ice Bucket Challenge, so save your love or vitriol for another space.
Another example of an idea or behavior spreading quickly is the Arab Spring. Literally entire sections of the world changed in a matter of days, and while revolutions have always occurred in history, internet-based technologies serve as an accelerant in the spread of ideas.
The meme as a common experience, or the meme as a cultural divider?
“An idea, behavior, or style that spreads from person to person within a culture”…by that definition, it seems that a meme should bring a culture together, simply because it makes connections within a culture that can serve as stronger bonds. However, I don’t always find that true. Here is a frivolous example:
My wife sent me a link to the “Type I Diabetes Memes” Tumblr page a few months ago, and among the numerous pictures, this particular one slays me, not because it is particularly funny, but because it is so amazingly specific. To really “get it”, you have to have been:
- An English-speaker.
- A Type I diabetic.
- An insulin pump wearer.
- Stopped repeatedly at security checkpoints in an airport due to said pump.
- AND a person that has seen and understands this particular internet meme “format”.
That picture doesn’t connect people. Yes, this “spread quickly within a culture”, but it really only was an inside joke that only a limited amount of people can really appreciate. The vast majority of you reading this will NOT say to yourselves, “That is SO TRUE!” (as I did).
The concept of rapidly spreading ideas as a separator scales up to other more-serious situations as well. For example, on Facebook I have some friends that are not just Republican/Conservative; they are SUPER Republican/Conservative. This is also true of friends I have that are MEGA Democrats/Liberals. Often, the posts that those individuals make are extreme in one way or another, and sometimes, they simply do not reflect reality. What the internet has done in these cases is created not a stronger, common culture, but two diametrically opposed cultures that cannot realistically co-exist.
There is no room for discussion.
Ask most people about the situation in Ferguson right now; either “innocent, young, unarmed Mike Brown” was gunned down in cold blood by a vicious killer cop working within a 100% corrupt, whites-only police state, or “thuggish, armed robber Mike Brown” was shot by an innocent police officer that was assaulted while simply investigating a reported crime. (Compare the comments posted to Ferguson-related online stories on CNN.com and FoxNews.com for a further examination of this concept.) I have seen very few public voices considering that maybe, just maybe, there are many other complex issues involved and that both viewpoints probably share some degree of merit. Now again, the purpose of this blog is not to debate that issue, but rather, the purpose is to point out that rapidly spreading ideas do NOT always bring people together.
My question to the reader is, how can we foster middle grounds in thought when so-often viewpoints become deeply entrenched before all factors come to light and are thoughtfully considered? A situation as complex as the Mike Brown case cannot be decided-upon in a few minutes and cannot be adequately discussed in 140 characters.
“With great power…”
We have a responsibility as educators, Christians, and human beings living on the Earth to figure out something else about memes: how can we best-harness the concept of memes and spread ideas quickly in a positive and responsible way? That is something that has been discussed at length in my graduate-level sports leadership courses, and I know my colleague Dr. McRee has discussed this in her Sports Management and Marketing courses as well.
All it takes is the right person in the right situation to cause a “Tipping Point,” and then an idea spreads. The notion of a “Cold Water” challenge has been around for some time, so what changed? (The Wikipedia link in the first paragraph examines this question.) Fine Arts is putting on a musical entitled “Urinetown” that has a significant message, but one that has never spread to the extent of the Ice Bucket Challenge. I have heard Brother Carlton Burris at Immanuel Baptist Church say that the most successful meme in history was probably the initial spread of Christianity in the couple of years after Jesus’ crucifixion. How do we get POSITIVE thoughts and principles to spread throughout our culture?
How do I make students best-understand the importance of Physical Education to children? How does our department best-express the long-term benefits of a healthy lifestyle to ETBU’s students? How does ETBU best-make a Godly-impact on our community, state, and country? These are important questions to ask, because as surely as technology marches forward and the world shrinks, the cultures of America and the world are going to change rapidly over the remainder of our lifetimes.
It is our shared responsibility to ensure that whatever ideas “go viral” leave this place better than when we arrived. (Click to Tweet)