1. An element of a culture or behavior that may be passed from one individual to another by nongenetic means, esp. imitation.
2. An image, video, etc. that is passed electronically from one Internet user to another.
The tipping point came when I saw the words “you just don’t care about the troops.” It was a phrase too far in a world filled with quotes and aphorisms and opinions and “personal appeals” for support for some cause or another. It is like driving through your quiet neighborhood and finding that someone has erected giant, brightly-lit, and very ugly billboards in all the front yards. My cyber-neighborhood is Facebook, and although I still enjoy the company, the signs are starting to get to me. I wonder if others are thinking “there goes the neighborhood”?
Like everything that eventually comes to excess, it started quietly and with no ill intent. First, there were photos and cartoons. Some were funny, some were thought-provoking, and some contained quotes that were inspiring and hopeful. Sometimes, a beautiful photograph was “enhanced” with beautiful words. Sometimes, the beauty of the piece was marred by misspelling or poor grammar, but that gave many of us a chance to poke fun at the writer. Within the past year, a homelier meme was introduced: solid color background, a graphic piece from advertising archives (the 1950s seemed to be a popular theme), and some sarcastic or humorous comment. I find them, and the art, tiresome.
Some are funny, graphically clever, well-designed, carefully proofread, and what I consider “share-worthy”. I try to be discriminating, because I believe that “less is more” particularly with memes. Can I get a show of hands here: How many of my fellow social media users have blocked posts of friends who post dozens of memes in a single sitting? It’s got to be more than just me. They wear me out! It’s like being corralled into endless small talk with the most boring person on the planet! The memer may be the most erudite, clever, intelligent, and delightful friend you have, but they don’t understand the concept of “less is more” when it comes to memes. They seem to have lost confidence in their own ability to generate an interesting post (or maybe they’re just as tired as I am after wading through a bunch of memes, and hitting the “share” key seems like the only reasonable option). Maybe, as we see this opinion, and that joke, over and over, we lose the ability to discriminate between what we actually like, so we share everything we see. The thing is, you lost most of your audience after the fourth one.
Two of my least-favorite memes (and incidentally, the ones I NEVER share) are the “post this as your status for one hour to show you support for . . . .”). Sometimes, the meme includes the words “this is personal for me” and I think why should I care, when I don’t know who created the meme? I always wonder what the meme creators get out of the product; is there a counter built in to see how much it is shared? Is there a thrill when it finds its way back to their own Facebook or Twitter page?
A newer trend, and the one at which I now draw the line, is the “threat meme”. I dislike manipulation of any kind. I don’t buy under a hard sell. Some memes include vague insults “I think I know which of my friends will share this” (in other words, the doodieheads won’t); or “If you can’t take a minute out of your busy day to share . . . “ (well, considering that at least 60% of us are at work, we might be well-advised NOT to take a minute for anything BUT work). Then there are the ones that put my tolerance for memes right over the top: “If you don’t share this, you can’t say you support the troops” “if you don’t share this, you don’t have a heart”, “if you don’t share this, you don’t care about kids with cancer, abused animals, my friend Howard . . .” etc., etc. I find it pretty ironic that the memes that tell me “the troops are fighting for your freedom” don’t want me to exercise the freedom to choose which memes to share. Threats and insults make for a pretty mean-spirited neighborhood, and it makes me seriously consider moving to a kinder, gentler place where people don’t rely on little boxes to tell them how to feel . . . I wonder where that will be.