September 30, 2014
Earlier this month, we held our Tech Cocktail Chicago Sessions event where Cheezeburger founder and CEO, Ben Huh, finally gave us an answer to one of the universe's most asked questions: what exactly is a “meme”?
“A meme actually isn't what you think it is,” said Huh. “A meme is any idea that's spread from person to person – that's the Richard Dawkins, The Selfish Gene, 1976 book definition of ‘meme'.”
Huh traces the meme all the way back to Dawkins, who used the term within the context of basic evolutionary principles as applied to social and cultural phenomena. So, basically, it's likely that your very own notion of what a meme is or your ideation of a what a meme comprises is wrong. But Huh doesn't stop at citing historical precedent, and continues to note our widely modern (although misconstrued) application of the word:
“What we call ‘Internet memes' are what's called ‘image macro[s]' – an image with a caption at the top and the bottom. And a meme is like a repeatable version of that.”
I'm not one to shy away from ignorance, so I can certainly tell you that I feel like an idiot (and I'm sure I'm not alone – right?). While the Cheezburger's first site, I Can Has Cheezeburger, can be held responsible for introducing the world some of the very first, viral, cat memes on the Internet, Ben Huh shares with us that the origins of the meme really can found in the darkest corners of the Internet; mainly, he cites 4Chan – the online community responsible for the celebrity nude leaks – as the first source of the meme's cultural infiltration.
Huh also talked about the importance of a “mobile-first” approach, and the necessity for companies to rethink their models apropos of shifting ideals and behaviors. Nowadays it's easy to proliferate something into a meme, and low barriers to this form of media (the ease of access to tools that allow for quick creation of image macros) have allowed online publications like BuzzFeed to prosper. Cheezburger has had to make the difficult transition of adapting to the mobile space in order to remain competitive in a society that has changed its primary way of content consumption.
Watch Ben Huh talk about memes at Tech Cocktail's Chicago Sessions, starting at the 19:00 mark. Here's the video:
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