What Grumpy Cat has to do with the memetics and the theory of memes? Apparently, a lot.
The memes however came long before the internet.
The meme (pronounced "meem") is usually defined as an idea, behavior or style that spreads from person to person within a culture. The word meme (shortened from the Greek word "mimeme") itself means "that what is imitated".
Memes replicate themselves from brain to brain, spreading as a virus via human consciousness. It can be said that a meme is any information that can be copied. Pent Shed Astley and Tyldesley And, if it can be copied - it will.
Memes are all around us: the way we talk (information that is copied from person to person by imitation, e.g. a catchphrase), the way we wear our clothes (even the concept of wearing clothes itself is a cultural meme), any little bit of knowledge, a lore, a habit (remember the "smoking is cool" meme?) - all those concepts are literally alive, and use our brains as a carrier.
All transmitted knowledge is mimetic. But not every idea and information pattern is a meme - only those that find a way to spread themselves and survive long enough to be recognized as such, are memes.
Our world is a place where the information behaves like an organism, a gene: it replicates, mutates and evolves. Ideas are replicating by leaping from brain to brain, interacting with other ideas to form new ones. Scientist believe that any info that is varied and selected enough will produce some kind of design in the end.
Those self-replicating "life forms" are now spreading via technology and are inventing ways to keep themselves alive.
The analogy with the viruses is not accidental: the memes are "contagious" (remember when everybody was "rickrolled"?), replicating themselves by parasitically infecting minds. They work by altering our behavior, causing us to propagate their pattern: what else could have made you send that link of a Rick Astley YouTube video, claiming it was something else entirely? You've succumbed to an internet virus that will "never gonna give you up"! It was annoying to catch that virus, but it was also unavoidable: no one is immune to the idea viruses!
Depending on how long you're been on the internet, you've seen hundreds, or maybe thousands of internet memes already.
An internet meme (sometimes they're also called "internet phenomenons" or "internet fads") is any word, catchphrase, activity, or media (such as an image or a video) that multiple people find amusing so it spreads itself via internet in a viral fashion, inspiring imitation, and sometimes even spawning secondary memes parodying the original.
The most common type of an internet meme is a picture of a person or an animal with a funny caption. The most famous example is "LOLcats", photographs of cats with intentionally semi-illiterate captions.
A meme can be a word, such as "LOL" (acronym for "laughing out loud") or "pwn" (meaning to "own", defeat, dominate).
This cultural phenomenon might originate and stay online, but as of recently memes are crossing over and spreading offline.
Viral marketing campaigns are looking to cash in on the popularity of internet memes. They'll often attempt to create an internet meme themselves. For example, the "Bride Has Massive Hair Wig Out" meme was created by the hair products manufacturer Sunsilk for an upcoming advertising campaign.
Some would say that the internet memes have been co-opted by the marketing and advertising executives, using them to get their brand message transported directly to the brains of their customers.
Social media sites and blogs are often seen as the originators of internet memes, but more frequently their role is in reinforcing its popularity by posting and re-posting the meme. The origins of many popular internet memes can be traced back to the more arcane places such as the notorious 4chan board or Something Awful.
If successful, an internet meme will spread out from the deeper ends of the internet meme pool to the social media sites such as Tumblr and Reddit, before it reaches the mainstream. At this point, you'll recognize it all over the place: it will be posted on Facebook and Twitter, and may even cross over to spread in the online and offline mass media.
That was the case with one of the first internet memes, the famous "Dancing Baby". An animated GIF, created in order to demonstrate the possibilities of 3D drawing software, spread like a wildfire around the internet in 1996, and even appeared in an episode of "Ally McBeal" television show.