Internet Meme

An Internet meme ( /ˈmiːm/ MEEM) is a concept that spreads via the Internet. The word meme was coined by Richard Dawkins for his 1976 book The Selfish Gene, although his concept refers to a much broader category of cultural information.

Memes spread rapidly on the Internet for many different reasons. The internet's sheer information density allows a concentration of memes that was impossible with any other forms of media. The memetic-spread value of writing and even movable type printing was inherently limited by factors such as ease of use and availability of materials. Radio and television also have limits - a person can only listen to (and a station can only broadcast) one program at a time. These meme-spreading methods are time and energy-consuming, and also rely on there being at least enough listeners or adherents to cover the expense of further dissemination. Only memes that already existed to some degree could "afford" to utilize these meme-spreading mechanisms.

In contrast, the Internet is relatively easy for almost anyone to assemble and post a workable internet site stating their views on all manner of issues. Even an unpopular meme can gain have the possibility of being propagated if a single adherent makes an attempt to disseminate it. Moreover, memes that would previously have been unavailable to many populations become relatively easily accessible over the Internet, greatly expanding each internet user's range of meme exposure. The Internet also solves the one-program-at-a-time problem faced by radio and television. The vast amount of information on the Internet is available simultaneously, requiring only a few clicks to access such diverse information as the day's stock quotes, tomorrow's weather forecast, a new recipe, help with chemistry homework, perspectives on international trade, and a wealth of similar details. Whereas print media requires a time-consuming visual search, and television or radio requires waiting until the appropriate program comes on (before digital video recorders became available), the Internet allows users to access numerous different types and classifications of information without excessive effort or delay.

Such fads and sensations grow rapidly on the Internet because its instant communication facilitates word of mouth. In the early days of the Internet, such content was primarily spread via email or Usenet discussion communities. Messageboards and newsgroups were also popular because they allowed a simple method for people to share information or memes with a diverse population of internet users. They encourage communication between people, and thus between meme sets, that do not normally come in contact. Furthermore, they actively promote meme-sharing within the messageboard or newsgroup population by asking for feedback, comments, opinions, etc. Another factor in the increased meme transmission observed over the internet is its interactive nature. Print matter, radio, and television are all essentially passive experiences requiring the reader, listener, or viewer to perform all necessary cognitive processing; in contrast the social nature of the Internet allows phenomena to propagate more readily. Many phenomena are also spread via web search engines, internet forums, social networking sites, social news sites, and video hosting services. Search engines allow memes to be located even with obscure information. Without search engines, most internet memes would languish in obscurity on isolated or hard-to-reach personal pages linked to only a few other documents. While large companies attempting to promote memes favoring their own products would still flourish, much of the Internet's meme-spreading capacity would not exist without search engines.

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