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There are people and then there are meme people. The word “meme” (pronounced MEEEEEEM, not like a French grandmother) means “an element of a culture or system of behavior that may be considered to be passed from one individual to another by nongenetic means, especially imitation.” It’s come to mean those little photos and videos shared with people where you don’t quite get it until someone explains it.

If you’ve not yet seen Know Your Meme, first, you’re welcome. Second, it can be a bit of a rabbit hole. Third, if you’re already asking what the heck I’m talking about, you’re missing an opportunity.

Two Languages

Memes are a kind of secret language in some cases. It’s not the same as something as important as slave languages, where an oppressed people used some secret means of communicating to move important information under the noses of slavers and other bad elements. But in a way, it’s similar insofar as this language says “we speak it and you do not.”

Another way to look at it is that memes and this whole rapid fire culture of memes is like tribal language. It passes two bits of information at the same time: 1.) I’m like you and 2.) Here’s something that happened or that is now a shared data point.

Remember when you and I saw that guy fall down the escalator? No, because you weren’t there. Shared experiences are fewer and further between in a digital cocoon world where we’re at once more physically isolated from each other while still appreciating how connected we are by our phones. It’s in THAT world that memes show off their best opportunities. You can convey a lot of information (some of it nonsensical but still a kind of tribal currency) with something simple.

Hmmm. I could also say “memes are like expanding/inflating language. A simple graphic or brief video can stand in to represent hundreds of words.”

A quick weird example. Durex, a condom brand, announced eggplant flavored condoms. This would make no sense except that people who can “read” the “emoji” language know that the eggplant graphic is often used in place of a penis. Yep. Eggplant = dick.

I told you it was a weird example. And yet? It’s also pointing out something, and you’re either trying to learn it, are immersed in it, or you’re on the outside of it.

Will it matter to your life? Time will tell. But if you’re already deaf to it, I can tell you that you’re missing a lot.

Memes