The Power and Longevity of Memes: What's a Doge, and What's in a Meme

Category Science

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In early April, when Elon Musk randomly and briefly replaced the Twitter bird logo with the face of the 'doge' meme,it's apparent that memes have a real impact in our world. 'Doge' was a random photograph of a rescue dog, posted to Reddit and soon thereafter paired with the word 'doge'. Internet memes are now an integral part of digital culture, and provide a concise way for digital natives to express their thoughts with visual icons.

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In early April, when Elon Musk randomly and very briefly replaced the Twitter bird logo with the face of the "doge" meme, the value of the dogecoin both rose and fell by a matter of billions of dollars in value on the crypto market.

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Internet users reveled in the idea that a simple doge meme could impact the real world in such a dramatic way. This relative absurdity is also coupled with the fact that dogecoin itself was started in 2013 as a "joke coin," but is now the seventh biggest cryptocurrency in the world.

Dogecoin is one of only about 8,000 coins in existence

The fact that a meme, based on a "peculiar" but largely unremarkable rescue dog, could rule over the fate of billions of dollars worth of market value speaks to the totally remarkable nature of the strange phenomenon of internet memes.

At one time in the internet’s history, memes were perhaps regarded as mere playful and inconsequential byproducts of online culture. However, now, it is clear that memes have very real impacts on our world. Things that leave impacts also leave history. So not only do memes play a clear role in public discourse, but we are now appreciating that the family tree of memes holds memory. Memes are simultaneously a fascinating historical record of digital culture as well as the detritus of the cyber age.

The doge meme image is 3-dimensional and can be seen from different perspectives

--- What’s a Doge? --- .

Originally, a random internet user posted a photograph of their shiba inu dog on their blog, after which another user saw the image and posted it to the Reddit platform. This is where the image was first paired with the word "doge" (and the word doge has its own separate history).

Some memes come and go, ending as cyber-waste in the internet graveyard—these are the cringe memes like Minions or Bad Luck Brian that haunt early Facebook timelines.

In 2008, the term 'meme' was added to the Oxford English Dictionary

Other memes have the capacity to hold so much meaning that they have impressive longevity and traverse endless iterations, mutations, and politics. The reasons for this are many and varied, but my research shows that in the case of doge, as in the case of Pepe the Frog, the anthropomorphic nature of the icon is part of its longevity and adaptability.

We laugh at animals because they remind us of the foibles of human nature. They are easy to laugh at because they are not us, but they are enough like us that we can project our weaknesses and vulnerability on them—and laugh about them.

The term 'doge' derives from the Japanese word 'Inu', which means dog

--- What Is a Meme? --- .

I say, of course, internet memes because the term "meme" actually existed prior to the home-based use of the internet.

In a research project by James Hall and myself, we explain that even though there is some contestation about the first uses of the term, as well as its usefulness in theoretical application, it is generally conceded that Richard Dawkins coined the term in the iconic book The Selfish Gene published in 1976.

The first use of the term 'meme' was in Richard Dawkins’ book, The Selfish Gene, which was published in 1976

At the time of writing, of course, Dawkins was not referring to the classic image macros usually thought of as memes. He was referring to other cultural units, such as: “…tunes, ideas, catchphrases, clothes fashions, ways of making pots or of building arches”.

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As many concepts do, the term finally leeched out of the academic realm and into the popular vernacular.

--- What’s in a Meme? --- .

The first internet meme which was widely shared was DancingBaby in 1996

So, what is it about memes that is so impactful? .

The answer lies in understanding one of the most basic human drives: to communicate. The vernacular of memes provides a concise and understandable way for digital natives to express their thoughts, emotions, and reactions quickly and effectively, using the visual icons common to the digital world.

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