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Think Out Loud

All About Memes

Pete Springer/OPB

What’s a meme, you ask?

Think of it as an idea that moves from one person to another. If a gene is a unit of genetic information, a meme is a unit of cultural information. (“Best of” lists are a meme. So are “wardrobe malfunctions.” And “casual Fridays.”) Like genes — or, perhaps, viruses — memes spread, multiplying and morphing. The concept of memes has been around for a while, but online memes are faster, shorter and seemingly more invasive than ever before.

Locally, Providence St. Vincent Medical Center in Portland made a video of hospital staff dancing in pink gloves, for breast cancer awareness. It got over seven million hits on YouTube, generating national news coverage and prompting other hospitals across the country to follow suit.

A few Facebook users started writing “25 Things You Didn’t Know About Me” lists and posting them to their online profiles. At the trend’s peak, five million of these lists were written in just one week. And Time Magazine estimated that the U.S. economy lost 800,000 hours of productivity.

These are just two examples of the seemingly unstoppable internet meme culture. What’s your experience with the world of viral YouTube videos, Twitter hashtagging, and Facebook fads? Are you a lolcat man or a failblog woman? Have you been a part of a flashmob? What’s your favorite internet meme? How do they affect your life? And what do they say about our society?


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