The internet was exciting, there was always new things to discover. In those days, it felt endless and grand, but not in the omnipresent and immeasurable way that it does today. You had a handful of websites that you knew, perhaps they were in your bookmarks, or you knew their URLs by heart. Sometimes a friend would stumble upon a cool new website and share it with everybody. A new discovery. A new location on the World Wide Web that you could visit; all you had to do was type in the URL and you would be transported to an entirely new place, as if you had just gotten on a plane to a country you were visiting for the first time. If the website was any good, you could spend hours, days or sometimes even months coming back to visit it. Despite frequenting different websites over the years, there was one thing in particular that was always there. Present throughout my days. One thing to which the majority of my time on the internet went: looking at memes.
a sentimental longing or wistful affection for a period in the past
Memes are a phenomenon that I perhaps take for granted we all have a shared experience of. I've seen them so much over the years that I've spent on the internet that they feel self-evident; inherent to the world that I live in. So much so that I assume everybody knows what I mean when I say the word 'meme'. If, like me, you were born in the late 90s or later, then you probably do. At the very least, you have seen one before, willingly or unwillingly. If that's not the case, let me try to explain it to you. In its simplest and most common form, it's an image accompanied by some text that together tell a joke or communicate something humorous. It's a format that has by now been perfected, yet paradoxically is always changing. Memes evolve in such a way that every new iteration is different enough to be interesting yet familiar enough to be understood.
an image, video, piece of text, etc., typically humorous in nature, that is copied and spread rapidly by internet users, often with slight variations
So what do you do with a meme? Do you look at it? Do you laugh at it? Do you interact with it? Any, all, or none of the above I would say. They're shared on probably all internet content platforms, you can do with them what you want. You can look at them to amuse yourself. You can send them to a friend. You can comment to interact with other people that looked at it, share your opinions. You can even make your own memes and share them with the world.
morally wholesome or acceptable
It’s easy to disregard memes as cringe-worthy or unfunny. They often are. But memes also have some fascinating qualities. Not any specific meme; memes as a whole, as a phenomenon. For one, they can be extremely specific and contextual. If you don’t have the right prior knowledge that belongs to a certain niche or group on the internet, you’re definitely not going to understand a meme that comes from there. On the internet, there exist subcultures within subcultures within subcultures, so things get incomprehensible pretty quickly. Besides that, the pace at which they appear, evolve and then go out of fashion is astounding. Something happens on the internet; a popular artist brings out a new music video, a politician does something ridiculous, you name it and minutes later there's a meme of it somewhere. Memes, by nature, are ephemeral, they exist for only a short moment of time. They're a snapshot of something that happened in the world and of how people felt about it. This is determined by popular vote; consensus by number of likes or upvotes. The most popular meme is the one that most people end up seeing, in turn keeping you up to date on what a majority of people are thinking and feeling. Yet as we grow accustomed to a certain format, we grow bored of it, we yearn for something new, something novel, a new level of complexity, a different take on the same joke, a new joke altogether. Because of this memes are ever-changing; a continuous dialogue between thousands if not millions of anonymous strangers on the internet.
a community, place, or situation regarded as encapsulating in miniature the characteristics of something much larger
For the most part, memes are still just memes; funny pictures on the internet that are created and shared to make people laugh. There's even several meme pages related to the TU Delft and its various faculties. These pages share memes that are related to the university and comment on the study-climate of the different faculties through humour. Looking a bit broader, there's a number of different meme pages on Instagram that create architecture related memes. If you're curious, check out @form_follows_memes, @dank.lloyd.wright, @oh.em.ayy or simply @architecture.memes to get started. These pages have follower numbers in the tens of thousands; nothing crazy, but certainly not little.
unable to be touched; not having physical presence
In recent years, it seems that these pages, and many others like it, have changed. Where many of them started simply as pages intended to share funny and relatable memes they've now taken on an important societal role. In the field of architecture for example, some of these pages comment on topics such as fair pay for internships, healthy workloads and stress levels during studies, decolonising architecture, increasing diversity and equality in the field, and much more. They criticise architects and institutions, exposing failures and injustices they have caused throughout the world. With fairly big audiences, these pages are bringing important topics into the spotlight; topics that are usually taboo. The beauty of this is that it's all done through the same simple format of the meme; usually no more than a simple image with accompanying text. It's a format the condenses information and makes it easy to understand by using existing imagery that is familiar to many people. The owner of the '@dank.lloyd.wright' page has even mentioned explicitly that they see the meme format as having multiple layers; on a superficial level it's a "quick and dirty" piece of comedy, but often a deeper meaning is contained within; the memes can "trojan horse theory, history and critique into our brain."
the quality of being open to more than one interpretation
If you had told me 10 years ago that the simple, humorous pictures I was looking at on the internet would go on to not only become the language of the internet, but would more importantly become a meaningful way of raising awareness about important topics around the world, I probably would have said 'yeah, right' and then continued scrolling. Yet here we are.