Social media websites have taken the world by storm and are extremely influential in our generation. One aspect of a specific social website has migrated off of that site and is now being used on other social websites, in text messages, and even in casual conversation! That’s right, I’m talking about the oh so annoying hashtag. It seems that everywhere you look you see #YOLO, #Swag, #firstworldproblems… the list is seemingly infinite. These tags started out on Twitter as a way to see if the topics you discuss in your posts are trending elsewhere on the site. Now you are guaranteed to find them on Facebook (where they are effectively useless) and by people who randomly “hashtag” their own speech (which really says something about the influence of technology in our culture but I digress…). Even worse, you are considered old if your first thought about the symbol “#” is a pound sign! Who’d of thunk it?!
The “hashtag” meme itself is the action of categorizing the topic that you are writing, or talking, about into a specific word or phrase and preceding it with a (dare I say it??) pound sign. As I said before, the hashtag originated on Twitter and is now replicated by all Twitter users who wish to see if their topic is trending elsewhere on the site, or to make a general comment on their post in summary or as a joke. This meme has a behavioral component in that you physically type the symbol “#,” or say the word “hashtag” before your comment. Over the years the “hashtag” meme has essentially leapt from the computer screen and entered into the world of common discourse. It isn’t uncommon for me to walk across campus and hear “HASHTAG YOLO” at least twice a week. Either Trinity is filled with a bunch of freaks (possible) or this meme has been widely dispersed and undergone a catchy variation (more likely). Sam Biddle, a writer for the tech website, Gizmodo, wrote a really hilarious, and sadly truthful, article entitled “How the Hashtag is Ruining the English Language” that further discusses this trend.
For an annoyingly interesting lyrical history of the hashtag, watch the video below!
I think that this particular meme has enjoyed such a vast success because of our daily, and for some, constant, interaction with social media sites. The more that our generation becomes dependent on technology, the more the two worlds begin to mesh. The language that we use on the Internet becomes the language that we use verbally. Twitter exploded so quickly that the idea of “#” became a way to express thoughts in a funny and light hearted way that really connects our behavior to the culture that we live in. Hashtags are one specific meme in what Susan Blackmore refers to as a “memeplex,” or “groups of memes that are replicated together” in her book The Meme Machine. The overall memeplex includes Twitter as an interactive social media website, the idea that it is okay (even beneficial or “cool”) to post things about yourself, your experiences, or your thoughts on the Internet, the desire to create links and view what others are talking about, and many many other memes, or ideas, that individuals in society today generally hold.
The meme theory in and of itself is completely mind-boggling. I find it so interesting to consider that several, if not all, of our actions (and even thoughts!) are both consciously and unconsciously imitations of the society in which we live. The rate at which common Internet memes are traveling across the world today is astounding. Consider the power that this theory puts in the hands of meme generators… and then consider that every single person is a meme generator! WOW! It is truly riveting to think about the way that these memes travel, and to really see how they begin to transform over time in order to retain relevance. I do see how the meme theory may become problematic when memes are dispersed to the point where they deviate completely from the original. Whereas genes show a relatively “high-fidelity gene replication,” as said by Blackmore, memes are not as consistent. Parts and aspects of memes are very, very likely to change over short periods of time and in that respect the meme theory differs greatly from Darwin’s gene theory. All in all, however, I find that the meme theory provides a very intellectual and reasonable explanation for the dissemination of memes and there is a very symbolic relationship between this theory and the spread of viruses in Darwin’s gene theory.