Did Tik Tok kill the meme?

podcast psychology social media Apr 04, 2022

Listen to this episode on Spotify

Listen to this episode on Apple Podcast

If you’ve ever fallen down the rabbit hole that is the history of the meme (which honestly you may have, if you’re here right now) - you’ve heard the name Richard Dawkins. Now if you haven’t, let me be the one to introduce you. Richard Dawkins isn’t a graphic designer, or figure in pop culture. He is actually an evolutionary biologist. He earned his phd in 1966, and his dissertation was called “Selective Pecking in the Domestic Chick” which was a prediction model on mechanisms of decision making in chicks. 

Dr. Dawkins definitely did not wake up one day and think – hey you know what would be really funny. If I took this picture that I just developed of this chick and wrote a joke that only some people would understand. That’s so not how it happened. 

But, he is credited as being the father of the term meme so how the heck did that happen? Let me tell you.

Dr. Dawkins book “The Selfish Gene” builds upon theories of adaptation and natural selection. In a 2014 talk he gives at the Oxford union, he says “if on some other planet there is life, I put my shirt on the prediction that it would be found to be something equivalent to DNA or genes, in the way it replicates itself.” He says it may be nothing like DNA, which led him to discuss the possibility of such a replicator on this planet that does the same job… which eventually becomes the meme.

So, a meme is anything that behaves like a human gene in culture. 

Just last week we watched a meme of Will Smith spread like wildfire. Think about the way a moment in time has been replicated over and over and over again. A meme is able to encapsulate a place in space and then morph it to mean so many things to so many different people. 

I mean I memed the moment with jokes for psychology majors, but then also laughed at the same picture with different words on it because I could relate to it as someone who grew up in an italian home. But then i saw that same photo AGAIN but the words on it were about like, crypo, and then that same picture lost its meaning (memeing?). 

This speaks to a concept in social psychology called ingroup/out group – which in simplest terms refers to groups that we are a part of, or, the opposite. We can see this phenomenon go from cat people vs dog people, to sports team rivals, to of course, politics. 

Niche marketing survives on the back of this phenomenon. What I’ve learned to be the golden rule of marketing is if you talk to everyone you talk to no one. This is how memes thrive, and part of the decision making processes that come into play when deciding to share or create a meme. 

Today I want to explore the question: Did Tik Tok kill the meme, or are these short videos just memes in motion? Did video kill the radio star? 

Think about a meme as we understand it to be: anything that behaves or replicates like a human gene in culture. 

Last year IG made the announcement that it is no longer just a photo sharing app as its younger users started ditching their aesthetic feeds for photo DUMPS - literally the most disgusting term ever in my opinion- and are migrating to the land of fast paced portrait style video land.

Think back to when reels were just bestowed onto us by the IG gods. I actually use to really like that song that was like YEP, NOPE, YEP, NOPE. And then EVERYONE made a reel to it. But made it about a different topic. That was relatable to some, but not all.

Sooooo is that a meme? 

Now a little squiggly arrow tells us which songs are most memeable. Content creators are pushed to believe that jumping into the current of these fast moving trends is what will help them get exposure, videos, likes, sales, brand deals: whatever it is that they may be looking for. 

But honestly, I think there is genuinely only one thing that can determine the success of a meme in any form, and it’s considering who’s receiving it. 

I feel like a lot of the time we forget that it’s called social media. It isn’t just media media - but we had that for so long I can understand the fuzziness. Us humans love putting ourselves at the center of the universe and that’s easier than ever to do when we can pick and choose the parts of ourselves we put out there into the world.

I think if we log off at the end of the day feeling like we made some sort of connection with someone, we log off feeling pretty good. And I think that’s what makes memes special. They give us this weird digital tool to bond with strangers over inside jokes. 

I don’t think this is what Dr. Dawkins pictured, but I do think he’d enjoy such a conversation. 

I want to know what you think: 

  • Did tik tok kill the meme, and our digital culture is going to evolve where photo sharing becomes more obsolete, and we will rely more heavily on video? 
  • Or is it giving us proof of the evolution of the meme before our very eyes?
​​Check out my digital publication & members only hub:
Unlock Exclusive Content