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The Decade of the Meme

Everyone seems to be posting decade recaps celebrating the best memes of the past few years. I’m struck that the meme of the 2010’s is, in fact, the meme itself.

From Hey Girl to Harlem Shake, this decade has been defined by the rapid spread of jokes and ideas through the Internet at global scale. The 2010’s was defined by social networking peaking. Everyone suddenly talking to everyone, for the first time ever.

Earth’s Thanksgiving

2009-2019 is when the entire planet decided to get together for a family dinner and talk. All at once. Just like any good Thanksgiving meal, things can get funny and things can get heated. Hours into the meal, you find yourself engulfed in serious debate with a distant cousin about a topic you didn’t really care about before. You find it’s impossible to have genuine conversation with everyone. You’re wondering why you came in the first place. You retreat to having small chit-chat with your siblings.

We learned that an idea which seemed great – connecting everyone to everyone – turns out to be… complicated. Just as it is with family.

From Words to Video

Unlike a family meal, we don’t make eye contact on the Internet. It’s much easier to punch someone in the face with words rather than fists. This isn’t the first time humans are communicating through other modalities. We’ve been writing letters for thousands of years. Unlike a letter, the cost of communication has been reduced a millionfold or more. It does seem that rapid exchange through text combined with the performance Like-theatre of Twitter and Facebook is dangerous.

How might we do better in the coming decade? One hope is that with cheaper and better video communication, we see each other more. Social networking that promotes video over text might alone fix the problem. A kind of digital paleo diet, replacing processed food with the fresh vegetables that fed our ancestors. Doing things the way they used to be, but still on the Internet.

The Language of LOL

Another savior is humor. Comedians are the ultimate diplomats, memes the ultimate virus. They can cross all party lines because everyone enjoys a good laugh. The language of funny is universal and can be completely bi-partisan. I’m not one for regulation, but I’d love a law that mandated that all “Like” / “Favorite” actions would be replaced with “Funny” and “Very Funny”. Twitter, but one that only encouraged jokes. That’d be really great. (Maybe people should take a vow only to retweet funny material.)

Either way, I hope we don’t over-correct in the next decade. I hope the next few years aren’t a descent into an archipelago of small messaging groups. Global networking is important: just like a family, we need to see each other, even if it isn’t pleasant all the time. Let’s just try and make each other laugh. The default human condition is to form tribal bonds, convincing oneself that others are different and default-wrong. The raging inferno of Internet debate reminds us that other people are real. Even if ideas are only cross-pollinated through mockery, that’s still better than nothing.

Here’s to a roaring 20’s, filled with roaring laughter and funny memes.