Ziel: Memes have hidden cultural value

Renee Ziel

Editor’s Note: All opinion section content reflects the views of the individual author only and does not represent a stance taken by The Collegian or its editorial board.

Older generations have an enduring stigma that young people cannot connect with one another due to modern technology and various social platforms. This idea is not entirely true, particularly when it comes to memes and social media.

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The Oxford Dictionary defines a meme as an “image, video, piece of text, etc., typically humorous in nature, that is copied and spread rapidly by internet users.” In other words, it’s a widespread occurrence that allows people to connect in a unique way. 

It isn’t that younger generations can’t connect with one another — we just connect in different ways compared to the older generations. Memes and social media have a way of bringing community members together in a lighthearted way. Colorado State University even has its own meme page on Instagram — @colostatememes — with over 9,000 followers.

CSU journalism and media communications Professor Kris Kodrich speaks on the larger perspective of memes: in essence, a niche form of comedy and media.

“Comedy is an effective way to inform people, particularly young people,” Kodrich said. “Comedy shows … are often more than entertainment. They can be enlightening. They can expose hypocrisy. They don’t have to worry so much about appearing to be balanced. Journalists can learn from comedy by trying to be more courageous, by trying to get at the truth.”

It can be argued that modern technology, and the smartphones common among youth today, allow for the expansion of human connection rather than the total replacement of physical interaction.

According to Pew Research Center, 95% of teens now report that they have a smartphone or have access to one, and 45% of teens now say they are online on a near-constant basis. In the experiences of many teenagers and young adults, older adults tend to criticize this technology use as harmful or insinuate that it’s no way to connect. Kodrich instead calls for a balance.

“I often have this discussion with young people,” Kodrich said. “I encourage them to have more face-to-face engagement with their friends, and go out and do things with them. They would tell me that they are being social online. And while that is one way to engage with people and connect with others, it shouldn’t be the only way.”

Indeed, technology may leave people at a social disadvantage. For instance, to get information, a teen could now search on Google; before, they would have had to go to the library or elsewhere.

“I fear that sometimes young people don’t have enough of those face-to-face adventures with their friends,” Kodrich said. “I think they are missing out on an important part of youth if they only connect to each other online.”

As for the value of memes, they contribute to our culture in a way that no other medium has before. Memes, and the media platforms they are shared on, allow people of different demographics and identities to unify through comedy. Despite popular memes changing so frequently, memes as a whole remain a cultural phenomenon in which many young people follow.

CSU communications major Taylor Millson provided her perspective on how younger generations use media as compared to older generations who may be less inclined.

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“Younger people have adapted to carry their phone as if it is attached as a body part,” Millson said. “Older generations had to turn to a physical date for a personal interaction. Younger generations are becoming more and more comfortable with technology. … I don’t think this is a bad thing, as it could improve universal efficiency, but I hope people don’t become completely reliant on technology.”

It can be argued that modern technology, and the smartphones common among youth today, allow for the expansion of human connection rather than the total replacement of physical interaction. With mobile phones that can fit in our pockets, we can easily speak to another person halfway across the world, whereas we could not decades ago.

There is something to be said of the disdain among older generations when they see young people looking at their phones in public. But there is also something to be said of the attachment teenagers and young adults have to them. When used right, technology and memes can be an innovative solution to places we previously lacked in: communication and connection.

Renee Ziel can be reached at letters@collegian.com or online at @reneezwrites.