Merriam-Webster has announced its Top Ten Words of the Year, with capitalism and socialism taking the top spot together. Also on the list, in no particular order by them (or me), were democracy, globalization, marriage, bigot (guess what national conversations influenced THOSE choices), schadenfreude and meme. Though I’m always happy to write about schadenfreude (at least, as long as someone is unhappy by me writing about it), memes are a new thing in recent years, and can inform us on our mission.
The word meme was coined by Richard Dawkins in The Selfish Gene, defining it as “an idea, behavior or style that spreads from person to person within a culture.” So slang, style, rumors and innuendo, and jokes are all memes. The most popular use of the word, though, has to do with specific images on the internet, which has been described as the Millennial take on editorial cartoons. Essentially, a picture is captioned and passed along. One that makes me laugh regardless of how many times I see it is of a spaced-out college kid with the caption, “Give a man a pizza, he eats for the day. Teach a man to pizza, he’ll live forever!” It is the image and the caption in tandem that make it funny. And as the image is re-captioned, the original intent and characterization of that guy is maintained. So the joke builds and moves forward, goes viral, and is then forgotten far sooner than a memorable Dana Carvey catchphrase from SNL or a gag from I Love Lucy.
What this means, of course, is that the way we process information is far more liminal and finite. It is more likely to stick to the surface of our brains than be fully established unless it is intentionally drilled in by ourselves or others. As we move into a more digitized age, where print media is becoming obsolete and the necessity for remembering as opposed to conveniently looking up information is waning, how we communicate, its effective life, and our messages have to change in order to be heard.
Pretty freaky, isn’t it?
But, of course, I have chased a rabbit down the wrong trail. The transmission and lifespan of memes work by people spreading them—just as I might hit “share” on Facebook or forward an e-mail, I can tell people things in a quick, concise way and it may stick with them long enough to act on it, or even spread it further, if it really sticks. So, therefore, I encourage you to pass along this idea from person to person within the culture of your life—join us for Christmas Eve at 7:00 p.m. We’re doing a New Thing at Midway Hills. Let’s see what happens if everyone sends that along to one or two people.
I look forward to Sunday, as I hope you all are, too. Until then,