Have you ever WONDERed what aliens would think if they landed on Earth today? What would they learn about people from television? How about surfing the Internet?

Based on the Internet alone, aliens might think that humans are obsessed with funny pictures of cats. And for good reason! That’s what the Internet is mainly for, right? Many people use the Internet to amuse themselves. From funny pictures of cats to dancing babies, there’s plenty of content online to fulfill this purpose!

Often, these pictures include funny captions or added text. Many of these fall under the same umbrella. We call them Internet memes! (Memes sounds like “dreams.”)

What is an Internet meme? Definitions vary. Broadly put, they are social or cultural ideas or symbols that are virally spread via the Internet. Like the flu virus, Internet memes from one person to another quickly. Within a few days, they can be seen thousands—even millions!—of times.

The word “meme” comes from evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins. In 1976, he published a book titled “The Selfish Gene.” In it, he used the word “meme” to explain how cultural information and social memories spread from person to person. “Meme” comes from the Greek word mimema,” which means “something imitated.”

Memes are not something new. They go back to the days when cultural ideas were spread through word of mouth. This has long been common with stories, fables, jokes, and slang. Internet memes, on the other hand, have only been around as long as Internet culture itself.

Dawkins believes that Internet memes are different from older, traditional memes. Think about the culture of the Internet and the speed at which it moves. These things certainly help spread ideas. They also make it possible to build upon those same ideas quickly.

In the past, an idea might spread from person to person via speech. Today, an Internet meme can spread much more quickly through emails, text messages, direct messages, and links. In a short span of time, an Internet meme may be shared millions of times. It doesn’t take long for thousands of people to make additions to the original.

Most Internet memes are based on things people find funny. That’s why they appeal to a wide audience. After all, who doesn’t like to laugh? Internet memes can be based on other concepts, though. For example, it’s possible to find Internet memes about urban myths, social issues, and many other subjects.

It can be fun to share memes and other material online. When doing so, it’s also important not to take part in cyberbullying. It’s okay to laugh at funny pictures online—but not when they hurt other people. Always do your part to be a good digital citizen. Report online bullying to a trusted adult.

Standards: CCRA.L.3, CCRA.L.6, CCRA.R.1, CCRA.R.2, CCRA.R.4, CCRA.R.10, CCRA.SL.1

Wonder What's Next?

Feel FRIDA share tomorrow’s Wonder of the Day with a friend!