Philosophy of Internet Memes

A work in progress

Before jumping into this topic, I want to point out a distinction that I am intentionally blurring for the sake of scope and simplicity. Richard Dawkins defined ‘meme’ in The Selfish Gene as cultural information which is passed between individuals and over generations, existing in a variety of formats like songs, art, and beliefs (92). Contemporary notions of internet memes typically include pictures and videos, however one could argue that any information commonly passed between users constitutes a meme. While there is room for rich philosophical discussion on the idea of ‘internet memes’ more broadly, my interests reside within colloquial uses of ‘internet memes’ which tend to involve humour and current events. This internet phenomenon began to rise in relative popularity around 2005-2008, just as I was in the midst of high school. Apart from describing life in a new way, memes also had a social component to them which I enjoyed. Their value is both inherent and emergent, an idea which I aim to explain in depth over time.

One disclosure I feel compelled to make is that the history of memes is connected to sites like 4chan and 8chan, which may put off some individuals given recent events. I would like to point out that discussion of dark or sensitive subjects does not equate my approval of harmful speech; I am merely interested in shedding some light on the events which have led to our current state of affairs. I do not condone the use of racial slurs, derogatory inferences, or dangerous theories masquerading as valid science to promote one’s own viewpoint or agenda. I do not like the connection between internet memes and the darker sides of the internet, but to avoid philosophical inquiry as a result of this connection is epistemically naive and/or dishonest. The reason I had not written sooner on this topic is purely due to fears of being labelled as something I most definitely am not. If anything, my goal is to bring a balanced perspective to the discussion so those who may be less familiar with this topic can see both the positive sides as well as the negative.

I’ve been collecting (i.e. downloading) memes since I was first introduced to them back in 2005 or so. Even then, I was fascinated by this new form of information transfer because something was different. Why did they make me laugh? Why did I like sharing them with others? What makes one topic more suitable than another? Over time, I noticed I was drawn to particular categories or topics, most of which are listed below. It’s scary and interesting to think about how much one may be able to “read into me” based on this subset, but the same could be said about most online activity, hence the latest concerns surrounding privacy. Oh well; if I manage to make one person laugh, then the sacrifice is worth it in my mind.

These pages are a work in progress: check back for updated perspectives and maybe some fresh uploads. I really should be doing school work instead. Thank you for your patience!

Interested in learning more about the history of memes? Here are some great youtube videos you may enjoy (mature content warning):
The Animated History of Memes by Instant History
History of Memes: 2008-2018 by Janarik
The Origin of Memes by LEMMiNO
The Evolutionary History of Memes by wavywebsearch
Casually Explained: Memes by Casually Explained

Works Cited

Dawkins, Richard. The Selfish Gene (New ed.). Oxford University Press, 1989.