What Grumpy Cat has to do with the memetics and the theory of memes? Apparently, a lot.
The memes however came long before the internet.
The meme (pronounced “meem”) is usually defined as an idea, behavior or style that spreads from person to person within a culture. The word meme (shortened from the Greek word “mimeme”) itself means “that what is imitated”.
Memes replicate themselves from brain to brain, spreading as a virus via human consciousness. It can be said that a meme is any information that can be copied. And, if it can be copied – it will.
Memes are all around us: the way we talk (information that is copied from person to person by imitation, e.g. a catchphrase), the way we wear our clothes (even the concept of wearing clothes itself is a cultural meme), any little bit of knowledge, a lore, a habit (remember the “smoking is cool” meme?) – all those concepts are literally alive, and use our brains as a carrier.
All transmitted knowledge is mimetic. But not every idea and information pattern is a meme – only those that find a way to spread themselves and survive long enough to be recognized as such, are memes.
Our world is a place where the information behaves like an organism, a gene: it replicates, mutates and evolves. Ideas are replicating by leaping from brain to brain, interacting with other ideas to form new ones. Scientist believe that any info that is varied and selected enough will produce some kind of design in the end.
Those self-replicating “life forms” are now spreading via technology and are inventing ways to keep themselves alive.
The analogy with the viruses is not accidental: the memes are “contagious” (remember when everybody was “rickrolled”?), replicating themselves by parasitically infecting minds. They work by altering our behavior, causing us to propagate their pattern: what else could have made you send that link of a Rick Astley YouTube video, claiming it was something else entirely? You’ve succumbed to an internet virus that will “never gonna give you up”! It was annoying to catch that virus, but it was also unavoidable: no one is immune to the idea viruses!