For anyone that’s younger than 35 and owns a smartphone, you will definitely know what a Meme is. They’re probably the best means of communication we have developed as humans, and probably the funniest, too. Furthermore, considering their widespread usage to describe almost every situation, event, or recent development, it is pretty viable for us to say that Memes are one of the superior means of communication chosen by people in the modern world. History of Memes
However, the prevalence of Memes and the peripheral “Meme Culture” as means of communication leads us to think about how their usage and rise really started in the first place, and how have they evolved over decades of human communication and well, their mere existence.
To start off, The Oxford Dictionary defines a Meme as “an idea that is passed from one member of society to another, not in the genes but often by people copying it.” The first popular usage of the word can be attributed to the British evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins in his 1976 book, “The Selfish Gene.” The word meme was derived from the Greek word mimema, which means to “imitate”, and was used by Dawkins as a cultural parallel to biological genes, since they were in control of their own production and thereby serving their own ends.
To sum up? Memes are a medium of communication which carry along with themselves, information, which can later evolve and adapt on their own (in terms of their usage) by being accessible on a large scale and be used to depict the multiple minutiae of human life.
So yes, Memes are also part of Darwin’s Theory of Evolution.
After having established what the term means, we will continue further on our journey to understand how they evolved over decades, and maybe even centuries or millennia. Many consider the first ever “meme” to be a newspaper ad published in 1921 which talks about the difference in how one looks when they get their pictures clicked with the flashlight, and how they actually, seem to look.
To be fair to the people of 1921, that certainly does hit the mark of how a Meme should be. However, based on our definition of the same, this newspaper ad was not in its own control, and was certainly not able to evolve and adapt to upcoming conditions. True, there have been an evolving number of memes that mirror the same concept, but it was not in control of its own adaptation itself, which is why we can’t consider it a meme, even though it does make for a good one.
So, really, what was the first meme? Well, there are multiple contenders to this question’s answer, some of which go as far back as 45,000 years ago which actually depict the painful woes of early human life and civilization at large. The paintings found across the world in places like France’s Lascaux Caves or the Tedongnge cave on Indonesia’s Sulawesi island are such examples, which just showcase how the innate characteristics of humans was not to hunt or gather, but to engage in storytelling.
However, we give humans too much credit. Looking back over the past few hundred years, we’ve been the cause of some terrible things, which have happened to other humans, and to other multiple components of the ecosystem within which we evolved over generations. So, its safe for us to agree on the fact that we’re okay at existing, but have always been adept at communicating what we want.
Our method of communicating has certainly evolved in step with our own evolution, and sometimes even faster than our own. Its actually ironic how the Olympics, the world’s foremost stage for the exhibition of peak physical expression, originated after the death of Pheidippides, who brought the message of a war the Athenians won over the Persians. The poor guy reached the authorities after running for about 42 kilometres, gasped that they’d one, and promptly collapsed on the spot the next moment. And what did we do? We mocked the guy.
Coming back to our original point, what was the first ever Meme? Well, the answer’s quite disappointing (or interesting, depending upon your point of view). To revisit the basic premise of what makes a Meme, it must carry with itself certain information, indicate a certain event or situation, be allowed to evolve, and adapt by being subject to changes in the ecosystem, and to do so by being accessible on a large scale.
If we take a look at all these factors and their intersection over human existence, one answer, clearly stands out from the rest of the crowd. This brings us to our favourite social media platform – Facebook.
We all know that Facebook (sorry, Meta) was THE place to be on back in the day. The usage of Facebook as means of communication (and also being the first large scale social media platform) addresses two of our four factors in what goes into making a meme. The presence of Facebook is what allowed the Modern-Day Meme Theory (yes, I coined that term) to evolve into what we know it as today. The other two factors of it carrying information and being able to evolve and adapt to changes – well, that is where our beloved Sean Bean comes in.
The release of the Lord of The Rings – The Fellowship of the Ring in 2001 is what lead to the first Meme to ever come into existence, because one does not simply ignore the first iconic instance that started it all (yes, I made the reference, sue me).
The “One does not simply” dialogue and its usage to make jokes was probably what kickstarted the Modern-Day Meme Theory. It adapted and evolved on its own to cater to multiple instances, events and conditions of human life, was accessible on a large scale and acted first and foremost – a method of communication. It was the first instance of when a set situation was used to describe a plethora of instances, which evolved over a period of time until when it stopped being “funny” and was placed in the Hall of Fame of the Greatest Memes of All Time. History of Memes
So, what do we do? One does, as simply as they can, tip their hat to Sean Bean, and continue on our journey to relieve our suffering by looking at as many memes as we can.
History of Memes History of memes