A Brief History of Memes

In & Out



               Since the inception of modern day Internet in the 1980s, nothing has baffled the masses of our somewhat pseudo-intellectual people more than the evolution of Internet memes. I can’t even remember when or where it all started, but I do know that it unquestionably manages to convey life-changing truths better than Winston Churchill’s quotes. (I still find his quotes better.)

The study of memes and memetics began in 1976 with Richard Dawkins ‘The Selfish Gene’ - the book in which the concept was born. However, of all the different types of memes, the focus on Internet memes–a piece of content spreading online from user to user and changing along the way–is only a recent development. The story of memes is crucial to the understanding of digital culture, and not only as a characteristic of an Internet subculture, but as a cultural artefact that is gaining new meaning and function as it is breaking more and more into the mainstream.

Mainstream would be a severe understatement; memes are an integral part of our daily lives. The farthest I can remember about this subject are the ‘Doge’ memes, which used to follow patterns like:

“Such class” “Much hip” “Have to buy” “WOW”, *starring Shibe the dog*.

And this was back in 2010. But history states that memes were omnipresent even in the 2000s. Just their forms were different.

One of the earliest (and maybe even the first) Internet meme was the emoticon (Davison). The ‘sideways smiley face’, composed entirely of punctuation marks, was created on 19 September 1982 by Scott E. Fahlman. An avid USENET user, Fahlman realised that the lack of a visual channel in online communication needed to be overcome to avoid misunderstandings, for example while using humour or sarcasm. He suggested the usage of ‘:-)’ as a way of marking posts that were not meant to be taken seriously. He also created ‘:-(‘, which he proposed to be the sign indicating that the post is indeed serious. The smiley quickly spread to other communities and it soon became a meme. The emoticon, as it began to be called, already displays many definite characteristics of Internet memes in a very minimalistic form.

These were majorly the ASCII art which were ‘so hip’ back in the day and which are still minimally in use even today.

☺ smiley ;) wink smiley :P tongue out (when something stupid is meant or said) -_- (oh really? or asian smile) ^_^ (delighted)



The emergence of Photoshop as a utility tool of utmost importance swindled the course of history in the generation of memes. The liquid availability of the rather popular application has rendered the digital world more imaginative with the approach to editing of art and medias. Thus started the rage of ‘modern memes’ with ‘Rage comics’ establishing characters like ‘Derp’ and ‘Derpina,’ with various expressions like that of the *the cereal guy*, *the ‘FFUCCCKKKK’ guy*, *the skeptical rich gentleman*, *the ‘Y U NO?’ guy*, and much more…

9GAG and 8CRAP became (and still are) an Internet sensation and the pristine English literature, as we know, is being butchered day by day - getting reduced to the nothingness of a ‘meme-fied’ content.

But that’s what evolution is, isn’t it? Spontaneous change to something new and most importantly, more efficient. Else we would still be using the old middle age English with a Shakespearean panache. Oh, imagine reading Chetan Bhagat’s ‘5 point someone’ in old English. Or rather, imagine him penning down the same; it would require an unfathomable amount of visualisation. I’m not condemning Chetan Bhagat as a writer, I’m just stating the fact that many of the modern (and classic) literary articles wouldn’t even exist in their purest form if their methods were changed.

Memes might be something that will be taught in the schools of tomorrow. Used instead of those boring headlines.

*Justin Bieber comes out of the closet* – *You don’t say*

*Marvel vs DC crossover happening* – *Shut up and take my money*

It seems a rather lucrative idea for me to see that happening in the future. Or the whole idea could just get scraped off. We might even forget this meme-fever even existed 10 years from now. Whatever will be will be. All I know for now is that I unaccountably love 9GAG and their posts. Though some may seem a wee bit monotonous or with a tinge of disagreement, but they’re funny. And as far as the existence of good English literature is concerned, what are History books there for?

Here’s a quote about evolution which I googled to put it at the end of this article, just to make it look more authentic and a tad bit cooler.

“We have reason to believe that man first walked upright to free his hands for masturbation.”

– Lily Tomlin

(I later googled and found out who Lily Tomlin was. Looks like she ia a TV actress and a ‘comedienne’. No wonder the quote was so … never mind, you get it right?)