Are memes becoming the new form of communication?

Is it ok to just send memes to keep in touch with friends? The Bridge Chronicle Finds out
Comparing the evolution of communication from pigeon post to  memes
Comparing the evolution of communication from pigeon post to memesImage: The Bridge Chronicle

I was watching an old black-and-white film when I got to thinking about how communication has transformed over the years. Remember in old movies, or even Harry Potter for that matter, owls, pigeons and ravens were used to send messages.

But obviously, there were shortcoming with the system. People couldn't send long detailed messaged because obviously, the bird couldn't take the load. Also, there were high chances of messaged getting lost, or the bird getting killed. Hence, eventually, upon realising the inconsistencies with the system, people began employing messenger boys to deliver messages. But this system wasn't foolproof enough and hence we moved on from that system as well.

Pigeon post (1843 painting by Miklós Barabás)

With the process of evolution, various new systems set in and people soon started using emails for communication. And now, as we continue to further digitise our world, we have evolved from text messages to WhatsApp and Instagram and Snapchat.

Texting with limits

If you used a phone in the early 2000s' you would know the problem of only being permitted to use a particular number of texts per day. I clearly remember being able to send only 100 text messages per day and communication was not easy. Your messages had to be concise and to the point, and so much so that if the number of messages was exhausted, then there was no other way but to wait to either wait till midnight or meet the person. There no doubt that the thrill of a specific permitted number of text messages was fun. The kind where you have to be present. Back then, communication was also more focused and dedicated to one person.

Then came WhatsApp

WhatsApp completely changed the texting scenario. With no cap on the number of messages, the world of digital communication had changed for good. More and more people came together and the world felt like a close-knit circle. No matter how far the people, everyone seemed to come closer.

However, soon, people did not have much to say to each other. And most chats and groups became a hub for forwards — and soon to the advent of fake news. In that process, we also learned a new language called emojis.

The art of expressing feelings with emojis
The art of expressing feelings with emojisImage: The Bridge Chronicle

Then came Snapchat and Instagram which made communicating with our close ones easier. There was no need to actually saying much, just a snap or a double tap was enough to show our friends that we are there for them.

So, communication has come a long way from being short messages sent via birds to detailed long messages and today, when we have almost 360° means of communicating with someone. Yet somehow we do not always have much to say to a person.

The inbetweeners

While we talk about the mainstream players, it is important to not forget the inbetweeners such as Yahoo messenger, Google hangout and even Facebook and Orkut. Yahoo messenger enjoyed the limelight for a few years as people would decide a time to meet online and take to each other.

Though quite short-lived, these were the precursors to the giants that came later on as digital communication facilitators. It solved a lot of problems such as having to fix time to be online or managing with the limited internet connection options.

What next?

With the world coming increasing closer and social media becoming a mirror to our world there was not much left to talk about. We were up to date with what was happening in someone life. (at least what looked important through social media) And also knew what long-term or short-term plans they were heading to.

Additionally, we are all so caught up in our daily lives, that we barely find time to have a lengthy conversation with everyone we know. Even if we do, we surely prefer using our free time for ourselves. Rather than spend time talking on the phone.

Enter memes!

For beginners, let us first understand where does the word come from and what does it mean?

As described by

Meme, unit of cultural information spread by imitation. The term meme (from the Greek mimema, meaning “imitated”) was introduced in 1976 by British evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins in his work The Selfish Gene.

The biologist considered Dawkins drew parallels between genes and memes. Meaning they are in control of their own reproduction and serving their own ends. "Understood in those terms, memes carry information, are replicated, and are transmitted from one person to another, and they have the ability to evolve, mutating at random and undergoing natural selection, with or without impacts on human fitness (reproduction and survival)." -- excerpt from Britannica.

However, the concept remains largely theoretical. It is also considered to be controversial to some extent, "given the notion of selfishness and the application of the concept to the evolution of cultures, which formed the basis for the field of memetics," source Britannica.

"Communication and social media have become the best of friends. On social media, things trend like wildfire, strengthening this new form of communication. The way we communicate has changed over the years. While handwritten letters took days to reach, now we have everything at the tip of our fingers in the form of telephones, cell phones, computers, and email and now social media as well. Trending topics keep changing at the drop of a hat. Staying relevant is all that matters," says Pranami Bordoloi, Clinical Psychologist, Apollo Spectra Nehru Enclave.

Memes within a culture

Memes can take a variety of forms ranging from ideas, a skill, a behaviour, or a fashion. Memes are often replicated and transmitted. The replication of a meme occurs when someone copies cultural information in a meme and uses it in a newer context. The transmission, (equally essential) happens when it is shared.

Memes as a culture

The overload on memes on the internet is proof that memes have now come to be a stand-alone culture — upholding and promoting certain ideologies. Memes are also a medium of normalising counter-reactions to certain (previously harmless) recently toxic behaviours.

But do you realise? Memes are now also turning into a form of communication tailor-made for the digital generations?

The meaning of memes is rapidly changing and depending on the kind of ideology you follow, you build a certain kind of connection with people. Especially during a lockdown, when you might or might not have much to say to a person but still think about them; a meme works ideally in such a situation.

Say you have a friend who enjoys watching the same things as you. You might not have much to share with them and cannot meet them regularly. But sharing a meme is a simple gesture that says, "This reminded me of you. I hope you are well."

He reacts to the meme which says, "Hey that's funny. I am doing good."

A study based on memes helping people in collective coping with the pandemic suggests that memes used in stressful situations helped lose the prevalence of the stress "over time and became less emotional producing normalization."

"Communication has not remained just a form of words & jargon. It has revolutionized in the form of memes that make people reflect upon their ideas & opinions. Paradigm shift is more readily achieved in masses when communicated in the forms of images of expressive human faces, that are more appealing & help in reaching the critical point. Memes form a creative tool for people to sense the situation around through different perspectives & to logically analyse it. Humour arising out of memes helps to ease the tension in our minds & face challenging situations with better coping strategies. Social media facilitates this spread of wisdom through memes widely in the community and ignites the young minds to grasp the situation from a critical point of view. What a ton of words can't express, can be easily conveyed through a single meme!" says Dr Rahul Ratan Bagale Psychiatrist & Psycho-therapist, Apollo Clinic Pune.

In conclusion

Of course, talking to your friends and checking up on them is essential. But often sending a simple meme is a way of expressing concern.

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