tl;dr: A beginning exploration of the role of memes in our economy and culture.
I was at my son’s soccer game the other day. It was actually the day that Bitcoin hit a new all-time high of $66k. There were 2 others at the game who have, to some extent, been with me on the journey from the early days. One of them is more passive, but the other has become quite knowledgeable about crypto and DeFi.
He’s not a full on “degen,” but he understands a LOT of the ins and outs, well above intermediate level knowledge. I’ve told him that he’s a full Jedi.
He’s also not a full on “crypto” or “tech” guy. Just a solid, upstanding member of the community. Not a radical.
The reason that this is important is that I overheard him explaining the Bitcoin value proposition to another parent on the team, someone who is of serious intellect, but whom, I would surmise, could more easily discount my passionate, early adopter crypto evangelism.
However, it’s far more difficult to ignore someone whom you consider to be “like you.”
As I eavesdropped on the conversation, I felt a range of emotions.
One of them was a feeling of continuing to watch the crypto revolution happen in slow motion. One of them was of “passing the torch” to the next wave of evangelists.
It was interesting, on the day of the all-time high (as an aside), how different crypto Telegram groups of which I am a member, responded.
There was one, composed of mostly people who had gotten into crypto seriously in the past 12 months. There, there was raucous celebration and excitement.
Another, comprised of many who have been around since before 2013 and, well, no one said a word about the All-Time High. Literally, no one.
>Now back to the story.
As I listened to D tell G about “why Bitcoin matters,’ I thought about the idea of how ideas spread throughout a culture and society and how watching the “idea” of Bitcoin and NFTs and crypto spread within society has been fascinating to watch over the past 5 years.
Which brings me to memes.
According to Wikipedia, a meme is:
A meme (/miːm/MEEM) is an idea, behavior, or style that spreads by means of imitation from person to person within a culture and often carries symbolic meaning representing a particular phenomenon or theme. A meme acts as a unit for carrying cultural ideas, symbols, or practices, that can be transmitted from one mind to another through writing, speech, gestures, rituals, or other imitable phenomena with a mimicked theme. Supporters of the concept regard memes as cultural analogues to genes in that they self-replicate, mutate, and respond to selective pressures.
I remember in James Gleick’s book, The Information, how he described “memes” as a type of virtual software code that was transmitted through language and culture.
In his usual, elegant way, Venkatesh Rao expounds on this beautifully in his post Low-Level Vitalist Memeing
Natural human languages are sometimes analogized to computer languages, and they do share many key features, but there is one key difference. A single natural human language like English maps not to a specific programming language like Python, but to an entire stack of computing languages, from the lowest to the highest level.
Given a piece of natural language text, it is always interesting to ask — what level of abstraction in a computing stack is it analogous to?
A legal contract is perhaps at the C level. A to-do list is perhaps at the bytecode level.
The precise mappings do not matter. The point is, human natural languages fluidly operate at all levels of abstraction, and there are no sharp boundaries. They can be used to program other minds at any level from machine code to CSS.
and now that Memes are driving so much of the economy, see Meme Investing by Fred Wilson and The Meme Economy, they require a more sustained examination.
I almost got caught up in a Uranium meme the other day, which came down to “the world can’t go green unless it goes nuclear, which means Uranium prices will go up.”
It made sense, fit my narrative, but I was getting it from someone who was already ‘infected,” which is why the charts for Uranium related assets looked like this:
The point is this, and it may be obvious to others, Memes, like “Few understand this” and “gm” and all of the gifs that are out there getting repurposed, are they low level common denominators of global communication.
Understanding how these work and spread (and I don’t yet) is critical to growth of any organization that desires to be self-sustaining.