Communicate with memes

Communicate with memes
Latin America & Caribbean
Critical view of a distorted system that is self-replicating, based on emotions and distributed virally







by Albertina Navas

The Ecuadorian communicator, advisor in digital communication, lecturer and researcher, Albertina Navas, PhD, member of SIGNIS Ecuador and member of the digital communication table of SIGNIS worldwide , shares a review of the book Communicate with Memes. Consequences for civilization posverdad (Communicating with memes Consequences in Post-Truth Civilization;. Lexington Books, 273 pages), Kien Grant (2019), which was recently published in the journal Religion and Social Communication of the Central Asian Research for Religion and Social Communication (ARC).
The review entitled "Critical view of a distorted system that is self-replicating, based on emotions and distributed in a viral way" was published in the journal Religión y Comunicación social, Vol. 18 No. 2, 2020.

Here is the review of Albertina Navas:

A first impression based on the title of the book we are reviewing here, Communicate with Memes, might not be clear. The statement leads readers to believe that they would be exposed to a historical landscape from the time Richard Dawkins (1976) coined the term "meme" to date. However, the book attempts to investigate various levels of content, medium, audience and sociocultural effects of memes, understood as an integral system, not as a communication product only. This work goes far beyond the idea of memes as cultural units that are transmitted from one person to another, through copying and imitation; Instead, it focuses on examining a broader concept, memetic communication, considered a new phenomenon in the 21st century, touching all theoretical and research approaches, producing a highly interdisciplinary text.

Based on the author's extensive experience in qualitative research methods, the book proposes a new interpretive methodology, Memeography, to document and understand the experiences, ideas and meaning-making processes of human actors within this complex machine-like way of life. (Kien, 2014). It compiles an account of media experiences that build a sophisticated understanding of one's place, as a participant, within the vast and confusing media system of the global network. The author works under the premise of Dawkin's famous theory of memes as agents of cultural reproduction, as well as Aunger's theory that electronic memes exist independently within cyberspace. The goal of memeography, then, is to challenge McLuhan's theory of media as extensions of human beings, asserting instead that humans are now appendages of the apparatus.

The book narrates the evolution of memetic communication to the history of electronic media, in order to establish its definition, delve into its characteristics and discuss its effects. The study begins to explain viral distribution as a crucial element in a social media environment. Then explore the motivations, uses, and rewards of prosumers, and the resulting media patterns. Subsequently, based on the nature of virtual communities, this work addresses some critical consequences of memetic communication such as isolation, techno-panic, harassment and misleading information. In this framework, the author claims the efficacy of irony and satire to promote a more productive and egalitarian discourse. This in-depth analysis ends up encouraging social media users to participate in an “ethical (R) evolution” that conceptually struggles with everyday experiences and the consequences of memetic communication.

This work contributes a critical, broader and more integrative perspective of the previous bodies of literature, commonly included in studies of Computer Science, Sociology and Business, which focus more descriptively on the more generalized meme templates, the types gender, ethnic identity and the emotions most represented in Internet memes. Therefore, this topic has been composed of multiple related instances; its creators take an element (text, image or video) and change parts of it to enter their own ideas, while maintaining a constant resemblance to the memetic group. This dynamic places Internet memes between individual and collective creation (Burgess, 2008; Wiggins & Bowers, 2014; Miltner, 2014; Nissenbaum & Shifman, 2017).

Based on the idea of tension between individualism and collectivism in the creation of memes, Kien makes a greater effort to apply his evolutionary theory to cultural change. Although the memetic sphere is based on the concept of autopoiesis, that is, in constant evolution and change, reproducing and maintaining itself, being based on templates limits the set of ideas to be communicated and, therefore, limits those who use them. they use. In this sense, the author recommends conceiving memetic communication as an expressive repertoire, which is collectively authored and developed as a means of communication:

All language is memetic. All communication, however, is not. Some communication is a simple exchange of information, without self-replication or evolution. However, some communications self-replicate and evolve, moving from one media environment to another, taking on the appearance of organic growth (p. Xi).

While this study aims to broaden our understanding of the ways that internet memes construct social categories, its scope is limited to a Western approach with an Americanized emphasis.

Therefore, the question of representation has not been answered with respect to memes in other cultures. In fact, the ability to understand a meme often requires knowledge of cultural conventions and memes, which ultimately presents a limited range of expressive options at any given time and place. Consequently, those who do not follow their model satisfactorily are likely to be ignored or punished. This emphasizes rhetorical pathos (feelings) over logos (logic) and ethos (credibility). It also provides the prioritization of information in ways that make sense in the digital environment, which are accompanied by consequences in our offline lives.

Beyond self-organizing systems and self-replication capabilities, memetic communication is also presented as a way to reuse images and words, reorganize and / or alter aesthetics, and / or jump across platforms, whose phenomenon would be better referred to. , from the author's perspective, as drills. Therefore, the most visible characteristics of any new medium are the ability to create its own reality, the objects that are continually elaborated within its discursive community, and the institutionalized recurring practices, maintaining a boundary between what belongs and what does not. as well as justifying reality. it builds other discursive communities on which it depends for material support. Consequently, it is a process of "resemiotization" (turning some thoughts, phenomena or behaviors into a semiotic artifact), "re-temporalization" (fixing thoughts, phenomena or behaviors in certain configurations of time / space) and "re-contextualization" (making a thought, phenomenon or behavior linked to a situation, arising from the present moment and from the present activity and imported to different moments and different activities)

Despite the strong symbolic load attributed to memetic communication, the author questions the popular idea that there is a virtual reality that is distinguished from the real world. At their discretion, members of online audiences share, narrate, and circulate representations of their online worlds, connecting them with the material world. Digital consumer goods include media devices, as well as software and other products with a digital code, all of which are involved in creating and maintaining social connections and divisions. However, while some celebrate consumer empowerment, Kien remains suspicious of being manipulated through desire and seduction due to this "excess supply of symbolic goods" and "cultural disorder and declassification", which he refers to as the heart of the consumer experience.

This widespread consumerism is favored by the dynamics of uses and rewards. Memetic communication is populated by free-floating signifiers, which are constantly reused as they move from one site to many others through the dual agency actions of individual users, such as media consumers and producers. The consumer, then, is driven to seek and consume experiences that find satisfaction in the primitive consumption of material goods, creating a world of constant self-confirmation bias. Like a carefully nurtured ecosystem, every element of an individual's social media experience feeds back on itself to sustain what could be akin to a lengthy, self-fulfilling prophecy. Therefore, memetic communication survives as a self-organizing system despite pressure to keep information circulating, in motion, to fix things when they break, to participate and overload information. The natural way to nurture this system is to stimulate responses through communication. Thus, feedback is a means of controlling it, but that control resides within the system that embodies its circularities:

In other words, feedback is a communicative act and is only purposefully relevant to the system it is intended to affect. On the other hand, feedback can also have unwanted effects, especially in systems with which it does not realize that it is communicating, or when it is affected by a system that does not recognize or does not care about its impacts on a part. network specific. (p. 18).

This annoying gratification feeds on uncontrollable feedback loops unprecedented in the global media system. Once the data has gone viral, it appears to acquire immortality, thus surviving concerted efforts to remove it. In this context, machines act as encoders and translators; the consequences of the show is reality. In this context, the term urgency is crucial to understanding memetic communication. Emotion (pathos) seems to motivate audience prosumism more than any other rhetorical tool or need for gratification. “Urgency is linked to arousal, both physically and psychologically immediate. Emotion shapes virality ”(p. 57). In the rhetoric of digital media, the memetic demand is not driven much by the urgency of the concerns of the physical world. The process is driven by rapid reception, recoding, and redistribution.

With an enormous diversity of digital tools and tactics, social media users create a virtual world that they inhabit as disconnected individuals. This phenomenon facilitates the formation of communities without any type of base compared to hives, silos and echo chambers. These communities function as safe havens for like-minded individuals who are inclined to maintain the status quo rather than risk eviction. Online communities inevitably become engrossed in this self-referential situation, succumbing to a groupthink mentality:

Conflict, discord, love, and harmony (and much more) are part of the emotional roller coaster of memetic communication. However, instead of bringing people together through differences, it seems, instead, to generate divisions such that communities are isolated and far apart, even suspicious of each other. (p. 105).

Ironically, one of the key factors of social cohesion within these virtual communities is fear. This fear is shown as “techno-panic”, when it refers to an intense public, political and academic response to the emergence or use of media or technologies, and “cyber-panic”, when there is a new voice in cyberspace. Social media forms a confluence of techno-panic and cyber-panic that sometimes leads to mass hysteria (dissemination of a specific behavior or symptom), invoking “technical loyalty” to describe the now-taken-for-granted assumption that the truth is only accessible through of technological means. Kien argues that this turns truth and reality into malleable concepts, rather than the hard facts that were once thought to judge new information with "the wisdom of disgust."

Another point that must be raised as an effect of an echo chamber environment is the immortalization of disinformation. Without the possibility of deleting false information from virtual spaces, once disseminated, there is no countermeasure proportionally corrective to false information. On the contrary, unfortunately, distorted communication becomes a breeding ground for stalkers, who publish defamatory falsehoods about victims. They manipulate search engines to ensure the prominence of lies when searching for victims' names. The author found twenty-two cyberbullying tactics, from posting cruel information to damage reputation (defamation) to publicly revealing confidential information (doxing), including different forms of intimidation (flaming, hate speech, dog harassment) and habitual forms of stalking. and harassment.

Memetic communication forces social media users to grapple with the combination of speed, global reach, and sham significance, all of which conspire to create a new scale of emotional appeal that is both exceptionally rewarding in consumer culture. digital and, at the same time, disorients the sense. of practical judgment. This configuration system imposes a logic of "optically correct" versus political correctness, prioritizing aesthetic representations over benefits, an area in which the power of the voice is more important than precision, and the value of the symbol exceeds the facts, making the show the essence. of reality. The show is its own justification, informing our ideas about reality. Through this process of seeing and acting, the show becomes reality; becomes the goal of all our efforts. We fight and work to make shows, focusing on the appearances of things and what we think they express about us, rather than their function and need. For the situationist, this denies our real life, as the meaning of living is given prominence and importance rather than life.

In this desperate scenario, the author ends up with ethical concerns, which fall into two main categories: environmental issues and environmentally enabled behavioral issues. In this framework, the book ends with a stimulus to an ethical R (evolution), which implies the competence of the person to read semiotic codes, as well as self-motivation and personal commitment to interpret the text. Together, these factors could configure a "counter-meme" tactic that vindicates sociopolitical irony and sarcasm to unite neo-tribal digital communities in order to disguise true dogmatic believers in the issues they scoff at. However, this could not be feasible without a strong leadership figure that maintains community cohesion. Cultural competence, then, is the key to transforming consumption from a destructive process to a constructive process using the product as a signifier, rather than ending its existence.

Access here the journal Religion and Social Communication of the Asian Research Center for Religion and Social Communication (ARC).