When coming across the chapter in Gleick titled “Into the Meme Pool,” my mind immediately jumped to the captioned photos and videos blasted across the internet in succession, each changing slightly in form to the next. I did not expect the term “meme” that we commonly use now in pop culture to have first been coined by a biologist. According to Gleick, Richard Dawkins defined a meme as “‘a bodiless replicator'” (312). Dawkins considered memes to be catchphrases, tunes, ideas and images. The memes we see today fit well into this definition crafted in 1976, typically taking the form of a formatted image or video with captioning that is changed to the discretion of each repeater. According to an MIT Technology Review, the modern meme is “a variant of an image based on a common theme that has spread widely on the internet.”

Dawkins described the journey of memes as the replication of “themselves in the meme pool by leaping from brain to brain, via a process which, in the broad sense, is called imitation” (312). However, this form of imitation didn’t have the negative connotation of cheap copying — it is instead viewed as a collaboration. With each imitation, the meme evolves. As with the genes that form our lives, memes seek to repeat and evolve, stretching through the human story. The internet memes that have become so integrated into our culture (to the point where they reached the clutches of Facebook moms) are an example of how information and communication has evolved with technology.

Memes are comedic in nature, an inside joke for the internet. Some jokes are more exclusive than others. All memes are built upon a common understanding of the internet community. Memes are a testament to the strange culture and humor that has developed mainly with the younger generations that grew parallel to the internet itself.

According to this article by Brady Gavin, the first meme was a dancing baby used to demonstrate the impressive movement of a new software.

The MIT Technology Review describes how Gianluca Stringhini and colleagues at the University College London developed an algorithm to track how memes go viral across the internet. Their algorithm used perceptual hashing or pHashing to identify similar images: memes. The group found that for a meme to be most successful, one must mass produce various forms of the meme — similar to how genes “evolve through mutation, reproduction, and selection.”

However, not all memes are innocent jokes. As the article discusses, some memes are used to perpetuate racism, and these memes can go horribly viral — as a virus does. These memes seem to act more like a vicious virus, seeking to harm for the sake of its continuity.

In retrospect, it is unsurprising that the pop culture concept of “meme” derived from the observation of a biologist. Internet memes seek to replicate and evolve as genes do. Memes thrive from their replication and evolution, and they have the best rate of survival when mass produced with a spectrum of competitive variants. Memes may be the expression of the internet’s genes, in a constant state of modification, adapting to the ever-changing terrain of the web.

Reverse Walden

As of Saturday, March 14st, 2020, I have been at home social distancing myself amid the COVID-19 outbreak, with my computer, my phone, my tv, and Netflix. Between moving from my bed, to my brothers room, to the couch, and then back to my bed, I’ve begun to think a lot about Henry David Thoreau and his experience with isolation in Walden. More specifically, how different the two are and how much I seem to be struggling with this sudden change.

Thoreau writes Walden about his feelings in isolation in the woods, completely away from technology. Thoreau is close enough to a town to be able to have human interaction and is in an area where people frequently visit his cabin. While I am surrounded by my family, I am in no way disconnected from technology. In this way, my experience is completely different from Thoreau’s experience in Walden. In fact, it almost makes me wish I did not have to be glued to my computer to complete my studies for the remainder of the semester.

Just during spring break alone, I spent two days over the phone and online trying to reschedule a trip, then, I spent a significant amount of time reading the various emails sent by the administration, and, most agonizingly, I spent time in front of the tv listening to President Trump and Governor Cuomo give various updates about New York State and the COVID-19 situation. I have been home for nine days – I am ready to throw my laptop out the window.

Thoreau, while in the woods, seemed to greatly enjoy being with nature and being alone – at least, that is what I have seen from his writing, for the most part, thus far. He would tend to his bean fields, entertain visitors, and travel into town. While being away from technology, he still was able to lead a somewhat normal life in the woods. I, however, and everyone in New York, simply cannot do that right now. We have to stay home to flatten the curve. We cannot see people who are not in our inner circle. We shouldn’t be taking trips into town to go to the store or the mall (not like we could if we wanted to since all unnecessary businesses are closed per the states mandate). Instead, as students, we get to sit at home in front of our screens, learning how to learn using a new style, and be surrounded by just our family.

My eyes are tired. I can’t rewatch another episode of Stranger Things. I can’t read another email about COVID-19 and the procedures to follow during te four days I had to collect my belongings from campus. I can’t watch videos of my professors teaching, I know I struggle to learn that way. On top of that, I need social interaction. I should be at Geneseo right now, rooming with my best friend from High School and preparing for midterms. Instead, I’m at home, in my childhood bedroom, with my brothers and parents down the hall.

The last time my whole family was home for an entire week on vacation was in 2007 – I was in Second Grade. That was when my oldest brother was a Senior in High School; it was the last time we all had a spring break at the same time. This upcoming week, while I begin to attend classes online, my entire family will be home, scattered throughout the house going about their day with a new routine. I can’t go to a library, a Starbucks, even just a random café – its all closed and I shouldn’t be leaving the house anyway.

At first, the thought of isolation was kind of fun, in the context of our readings for this course. I was going to really see what Thoreau discussed in his text. But this just isn’t it. I feel like I cannot escape technology no matter how hard I try. Five days of my week will be spent in front of a computer doing school work and going to classes. I know in this day and age we all use our computers to get work done frequently, but something about the prospect of taking classes online gives it a different feel. Before, I was able to put the laptop down and just relax with friends around campus, or I could take breaks in between classes from technology. Now it’s all technology.

I don’t want to sound ungrateful here. I love my computer, I love Netflix, I love being able to have information at my finger tips on my phone. But this whole thing? It feels more like a burden than a blessing, more like a hardship than a way of making something easier – you know, what technology was suppose to do in the first place.

Ignorance and COVID-19

After Governor Cuomo’s announcement recently where he said that CUNY and SUNY schools would be engaging in “distant learning,” for the rest of the spring semester, I have only felt more and more dazed. My immediate thoughts once seeing his announcement were: what is going on? I am from Long Island; how am I expected to move out in the next few days? This makes no sense! Huh?!

I am sure each of us can identify with this level of frustration and confusion. Just days ago, we were all about to sit in our English classroom in Bailey Hall, chilling, even in spite of the infestation of asbestos on campus. I am sure we are each still trying to adjust to a new method of learning, in not just one but for all of our classes. 

The coronavirus, originating from bats in China, has undoubtedly brought rage, frustration, anger, sickness and overall chaos to our world. I have sat in my house for days now, waiting until I feel it is safe enough to re-emerge into society without the fear of exposing my family to this virus. 

Among other things, the coronavirus has indefinitely revealed people’s ignorance. I witness this in my extended family and on social media. My grandfather’s brothers, all of whom are in the late 70s if not early 80s, refuse to stay home. They deny how serious this virus is, even while their own relatives in my family are currently fighting it off and keep telling them to be safe. They deny this even while putting my other family members in an unsafe position since they are being exposed to a virus. Of course, too, this virus is especially dangerous for older people who are more susceptible to its contraction. My mom’s cousins write in our family chats, desperately asking what they should do to force their parents to stay home. This in itself is an example of ignorance.

Ignorance is also evident across social media platforms. On Snapchat, I see pictures of people with the captions “social distancing” or “6 feet away” or something that is meant for them to poke jokes at the virus. I know sometimes humor is what helps mediate a chaotic world, but considering some people have died or are in hospitals because of this virus, it just appears more obnoxious and bitter. 

Ignorance is a concept addressed in James Gleick’s popular science book The Information. In the paragraph that addresses this idea, Gleick says, “Ignorance is subjective. It is a quality of the observer” (326). 

Subjective means that someone’s views are influenced by their personal feelings or thoughts. In the case of this virus, my relatives and social media acquaintances believe that this virus is a joke and that they are invincible. I know people who have been affected by COVID-19 and who are miserable right now, waiting to be healthy as quickly as possible. People who continue to assemble or who think they are untouchable are bringing society down with them. 

Our course follows the concept of communication, within, between, and among the humanities. Humanities is a study that is mainly associated with society and culture. So, in this case, ignorance roots from the humanities in the case that people who continue to avoid doing what is morally right are influenced by those who are ignorant in society. In other words, society is what encourages others to misbehave, even while evidence and sick people are telling people to behave. 

Social media is connected to the humanities since people who promote being with friends and who are not actually “socially distancing” themselves are then encouraging other people to do the same and misbehave. This issue in turn is what adds to the exposure of the virus and adds to the amount of time that this virus will stick around. 

As for WhatsApp, my relatives are influenced by their more traditional culture that sickness cannot stop them. Decades ago during their upbringing, my older relatives experienced life and life’s circumstances differently since they were constantly working diligently, in spite of the disease or sickness in the world. There was no “off day” for them; every day was a workday. Even though every direction of life is telling them to stop working, the idea that they need to work and be a fighter is what drives them and is what makes them more ignorant toward the consequences (G-d forbid there are any). 

If only, somehow, each of us could educate others and help them to understand and sympathize with how horrific this virus is so that its name stops reappearing on all communicative platforms.