The circulation of participatory culture: memes, creativity and networks
Resting on an ‘architecture of participation’, Web 2.0 originated a new era of interaction. Users are not passive consumers, but active ‘produsers’. User participation thrives online because of how widespread it can be: contrary to old media gatekeeping, anyone can create and share. Within participatory culture, making and sharing are equally important, as ‘in the economy of ideas that the web is creating, you are what you share’ (Leadbeater 2009). This mix is the recipe for ‘collective self-expression’, something epitomized by internet memes. Based on Dawkins’ concept, an online memes is ‘a piece of culture, typically a joke, which gains influence through online transmission’ (Davison: 2012). The internet allows memes to proliferate at an immense rate (Blackmore 1999). These can take a myriad of forms (text, image, video) and manifest in a variety of ways (emoticons, lolcats). Memes exemplify Tim Berners-Lee’s idea of intercreativity, which consists of ‘collaborative creative work made possible through the adoption of networked digital media technologies’ (Meikle & Young 2012). The apparent lack of value imbued in a (virtual) meme leads many to discard these as trivial yet they embody the democratic internet. As Shirky puts it ‘anyone seeing a lolcat gets a second, related message: You can play this game too’ (Shirky 2010). There have been a number of protests featuring billboards that reference internet memes which bear relevant political and/or social critique – these gain a new dimension by becoming present in the tangible world and demonstrate how permeable society is to online culture. Citizens are voicing discontentment through appropriated signs that reject of top-down values. This places the internet meme at the heart of active citizenship, giving it an added dimension of cultural-political relevance. Lolcats can’t be dismissed; they hold the power of cultural symbolism manipulated by the masses through which societies make meaning. Internet memes ‘actively prevent and dismantle attribution’ (Davison 2012). Thus, internet memes epitomize the central aspects of the internet as a democratic force; they are ‘home not just to a valuable object (…) but to a valuable culture’ (Shirky 2010). Internet memes challenge social, political and national boundaries; demonstrating an unexpected turn; as the ‘the social use(s) of our new media tools (…) wasn’t implicit in the tools themselves’ (Shirky 2010). Online memes are socially and culturally relevant both online and offline, as it appears that now, more than ever, ‘(…) media is the connective tissue of society’ (Shirky 2010).