As the 21st century progresses it is becoming increasingly obvious that memes are part of everyday life. Probably each of us, at least once a day, sees an ad on the Internet or television depicting a situation. Such ads grab our attention and cause our mind to bend one way or another, for the ad or against the ad. Such an ad is a meme in the colloquial sense of the word. It is a depiction of something that consciously acts to gain followers and or incite opinions. If we generalize a bit, we will recognize that there are unconscious memes as well: pure symbols (values, ideas, etc.) that act in a society. Surely symbols have been important throughout human history for as long as appreciable amounts of culture have existed but have they always been the way they are today? Have they changed?
James Gleick in an article on memes describes them in the more general sense. He says they are simply ideas that spread through culture and, in fact, behave exactly like biological organisms do. They evolve, morph and change form just as genes would, given a certain environment. What’s more is that genes reflect a societies ideals very purely, for if they are subject to selective pressures imposed by a society, they will tell of the environment they come from just like biological traits. This is of importance to note when examining current, popular memes. Now lets go a step further.
What are the memes of today in the most general sense? What is our culture saying? I would side with Nietzsche on such questions when he says, “stone is more stony than it used to be.” This is the title of aphorism 218 in his book Human, All Too Human within which he discusses the sacredness of art and architecture in the past and how the present has changed our outlook on it. What is the beauty of architecture to us today?, Nietzsche asks, “the same as the beautiful face of a mindless woman: something mask like.” The point that I’m trying to push for here is this: since technology provides us with such immediate and easy ways of public expression thoughts floating on the surface of society (i.e. memes) have become more numerous and more deeply psychological. So much is floating around that this expanse of ideas has become a thick swamp, and since expression is so easy, thoughts get thought out less before they get released, thus they fall closer to the heart of the individual. What does this mean? It is as if the censorship of society has been let off guard, as if all the proper manners of the world have disappeared as if the world now walks around in its pajamas.