When Was Death Invented Meme
Like genes, memes emerge in brains and travel outward, establishing beachheads on paper, celluloid, silicon and anywhere else information can go. But unlike DNA, they are difficult to mathematize and even more difficult to define rigorously.
For example, the image of a cowboy clad in overalls standing in a field became an Internet meme, spreading through text messages and social media as people used it to mark their agreement with some statement or other. The same goes for pictures, videos and other forms of entertainment that become culturally influential through imitation.
In his 1976 book The Selfish Gene, Richard Dawkins coined the word meme to describe a unit of cultural transmission that spreads like a virus and evolves with it. He predicted that manufactured electronic computers would someday play host to these self-replicating patterns of information, but he couldn't have imagined how quickly this development would happen.
Internet memes are a different breed of replicator, mutating on purpose rather than through natural selection. This makes them much more akin to biological viruses, and some scholars have argued that the concept of Internet memes should be treated as a subset of the wider concept of memetics.
Regardless of the debate over their nature, there's no doubt that the popularity of Internet memes has brought new attention to the idea of memetics. And this is a field that is likely to continue to grow, as we live ever more online and communicate with one another globally. The latest memes to capture the public's attention are those involving mental illness, especially suicide and depression jokes. Some of these jokes may help to destigmatize mental health issues, and others could serve as a way for those who have struggled with these conditions to see that they are not alone.