Memes are in some ways like genes: they exist to get copied and shared, and they mutate over time. They help us identify ourselves as insiders to various cultural niches, and they make us laugh (or commiserate) in a split second. They’ve also grown more sophisticated, in the sense that they rely more heavily on in-jokes than they used to.
Memes are ways we identify our online “tribe,” or our conception of it at a given time.
You didn’t have to feel like you were in the know to laugh at the Hampster Dance (sic) in the early days of the internet, but now you’ll find memes you won’t “get” because you haven’t seen a particular movie or listened to a particular song. Of course, today you can quickly remedy any shortfall in meme prerequisites through the magic of Google.
Three Things Memes Do
Memes are ways we identify our online “tribe,” or our conception of it at a given time. Like a lot of pop cultural phenomena, many memes grow stale quickly, and so we’re always looking for new ones. Memes may also make us more creative. The web has freed us to delve into endless unrelated images, in no particular order – sort of the way a child views a world to which he is new and of which he’s trying to make sense. Therefore, we combine bits of this nonlinear content in novel ways, and this is believed to spark new brain synapses and enhance creativity.
Finally, memes are believed to give us an energy boost. Humans are hardwired to want to share, and when we share a funny meme, we’re also sharing an emotional response, and sharing tends to amplify feelings of pleasure. Here are some popular memes, and what they might tell us about life as an IT service management professional.
We’re All a Little Bit Walter Mitty (or Walter Sobchak)
Few people haven’t acted out mental scenarios that involve some form of Not Taking It Anymore, particularly when people violate boundaries or rules that we thought everyone was in accord with. Hence the popularity of the “Am I the only one around here” meme featuring John Goodman from The Big Lebowski after someone steps over the line while bowling (Warning: language).
We Need to Look on the Bright Side
Sarcasm is a great coping mechanism. Maybe it’s not exactly sophisticated, but in a pinch, it works. There are times you really have to stretch to find the silver lining, like when there’s a particularly ill-timed server crash. Enter Bill Murray as Carl Spackler in the “So I got that goin’ for me, which is nice” meme.” Some days you get through by holding onto the slenderest positive straws, like the fact that it was BLT day at the cafeteria.
Our Expectations Get Dashed
There are plenty of memes out there that let us know that everyone else feels the same way on occasion. Of course there are other occasions, when you would really like to puncture someone else’s happy bubble, and for that we have the “What if I told you” memes based on The Matrix. Reading them can be a good way to let off a little emotional steam in a way that won’t get you fired.
Occasionally We Have to Think About Something Other Than IT
It’s been one of those days, and you’ve somehow turned into the stereotypical teenage girl who can’t even. Fortunately, there are endless memes that can take you out of the world of the IT department and switch on other parts of your brain so that the work-brain can take a timeout. The whole “I can has cheezburger” franchise is perfect for this, as are the doge memes.
We Can Accomplish Anything
The Hyperbole and a Half blog spawned a meme known as the “all the things” meme, based on one of Allie Brosh’s musings on what it means to be an adult (part of which is resolving to “clean all the things.” When you’re coming off that stellar performance review, or discover the boss mentioned you by name (in a positive context) to the company brass, it feels great, but some of us are a little weirded out by surges in confidence. The “all the things” memes temper those swells in confidence, so you won’t be tempted to allow your overall excellence turn you into a jerk.
Memes have been around since well before the internet (“Kilroy was here”), so they’re probably with us for good. They’ll continue to evolve to suit the medium and the people using it.