History 427: History of the Information Age

HIST 427: Internet Culture and Memes

Today in History of the Information Age, our meme infographic project was due. To view my infographic, which exists as a permanent page on my domain, please click here.

Along the lines of our project, this week’s class discussions and readings focus on internet culture and memes.

How The Internet Is Saving Culture, Not Killing It

The reading that interested me the most was Farhad Manjoo’s “How The Internet is Saving Culture, Not Killing It. Manjoo argues that while many perceive technology as a threat to the “old order of business,” we actually exist in a “period of rejuvenation” – in which many businesses are seeing revenue boosts greater than ever before.

The Clickbait Problem

Internet accessibility has allowed for hundreds of thousands of individuals to have access to all sorts of information and opinions whenever they desire – often free of charge. For some businesses, this led to growing worries that individuals would no longer be willing to spend any amount of money on content – reputable or not.

As a result, companies naturally took to including online advertisements, in the forms of pop-ups, sidebars, or sponsorships to get revenue – at the click of a mouse. It is not surprise that some of these advertisements are more polite than others, and that some companies took revenue-seeking tactics to the extreme.

“Clickbait” refers to online content “whose main purpose is to attract attention and encourage visitors to click on a link to a particular web page.” While this definition seems inane, clickbait is colloquially associated with lowbrow, misleading, sensational, or even downright dangerous (read: virus-ridden) content. Clickbait can come in the form of a pop-up prompting site visitors to visit another site, or can come in the form of shared articles with eye-catching, often stolen images, and outlandish titles. (Think: National Enquirer.)

The advent of ad-blocking plugins for internet browsers has helped mitigate the annoyance for many readers, but leaves a nasty aftertaste to the eyes of many in terms of the reputability and value of online content.

Online Subscriptions

More recently however, companies have entered a revenue renaissance – in which online, paying subscribers are outweighing numbers of print subscribers. Participants are willing to pay for reputable content, at an “accelerating pace, and on a dependable, recurring schedule.”

When you think of online subscriptions, companies like Netflix and Spotify first come to mind. Personally, I pay monthly for Spotify Premium, as I see the $5-$10 price as inherently more valuable than being forced to listen to advertisements in between songs, or having no ability to listen to “my” music without internet connection.

However, Manjoo points out that subscriptions go beyond big-name, internet-based companies, and that traditional print content creators are also seeing success. In fact, the New York Times “reported a surge in subscriptions after Donald J. Trump won the presidency [in 2016],” and that the company has more than three million print and digital subscribers.

It should not be a surprise that a news agency reporting on an extremely popular, extremely controversial political topic should see a boost in readership, however, this boost in paid subscriptions is indicative of a growing trust in internet-based content. For journalism, the lines between internet and print-based content are blurring – and internet-based content is not regulated to that of clickbait and poor opinions. As smart devices are increasing accessible, many individuals receive all of their news through mobile apps and websites, often in the form of push notifications.

Small Content Producers

Not only are big-name companies enjoying increased revenue due to a boost in online subscriptions, but smaller content creators are able to make their mark in the world through means never previously accessible. It is absolutely free to use social media to promote your content. Many creative platforms for artists, such as Bandcamp or Soundcloud, are also free to use, allowing artists and creators potential access to audiences that were once limited by geography and appeal to record labels. Manjoo notes that the “best new artist” Grammy award went to Chance the Rapper, an artist who has refused signing with any record label.

Reading about the successes afforded to artists, YouTubers, and other content creators reminded me of my vaporwave meme project. As a genre, vaporwave would not exist without the accessibility and global nature of the internet. If you think about it, what is the point of splicing audio samples into distorted, slowed-down, surreal versions of themselves if you are the only one who will enjoy it? But vaporwave – and many other online subcultures – have proved that yes, there are others out there who enjoy the same odd things as you.

More importantly, vaporwave allows artists and fans to create a unique experience that is not bound by the pursuit of profit, as the tools and resources used to create the genre are available almost entirely free-of-cost.

I believe that it is important to note what the internet has done not only for big companies, but for small artists and hobbyists – those who do not have lofty goals, but simply enjoy spreading a topic or activity that they enjoy. Reddit, with its countless topic-based subreddits, is a great example of this. For all of its memes and often off-putting political content, Reddit (and the internet as a whole) allows users to discover new aspects of themselves – whether it be sewing patterns, new ways to style their hair, recipes, workout routines, job interview tips, or video games to try.

I enjoyed Manjoo’s article because it points out the positives of and humanity of the internet – and the very real affordances provided by online content. Accessibility is a hot topic. It is an equalizer. It not only provides users with new opportunities and access to resources, advice, and more, but opens up entirely new ways of thinking about one’s goals and passions. The internet offers accessibility, and, if we are careful and purposeful, is not necessarily something to be shunned for threatening the old order. If anything, the internet adds accessibility to the old order.

Citations

Anderson, Monica and Jinjing Jiang. “Teens, Social Media & Technology 2018.” Pew Research Center: Internet, Science & Tech. November 30, 2018. https://www.pewinternet.org/2018/05/31/teens-social-media-technology-2018/

Baratii, Alex. “The 25 Most Memorable Tech Moments in Pop Culture History.” Complex. May 10, 2013. https://www.complex.com/pop-culture/2013/05/the-25-most-tech-memorable-moments-in-pop-culture-history/

Borzsei, Linda K. “Makes a Meme Instead: A Conscise History of Internet Memes.” New Media Studies Magazine, no. 7. 2013. https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/b355/b891a35360ab4c89397f8b67b8017816c931.pdf?_ga=2.6605301.658596223.1553126421-273870749.1553126421

Manjoo, Farhad. “How the Internet is Saving Culture, Not Killing It.” The New York Times. March 15, 2017. https://www.nytimes.com/2017/03/15/technology/how-the-internet-is-saving-culture-not-killing-it.html

Schmitz, Andy. Understanding Media and Culture: An Introduction into Mass Communication. Washington, D.C: Saylor Academy, 2012. https://saylordotorg.github.io/text_understanding-media-and-culture-an-introduction-to-mass-communication/s04-06-mass-media-and-popular-culture.html

Schneider, David. “115 Fascinating Facts about the Rise of Social Media (Infographic).” NinjaOutreach. February 2, 2017. https://ninjaoutreach.com/rise-social-media-facts/

Social Media and Teens: How Does Social Media Affect Mental Health?” PsyCom. https://www.psycom.net/social-media-teen-mental-health

1 thought on “HIST 427: Internet Culture and Memes

  1. Your point about hobbyists enjoying freedom on the Internet reminded me of how radio developed in the early 20th century. Hobbyists tinkered with the medium and used it for their own purposes early on. As the medium became more widely available, soon it was influenced by advertisers and big broadcasting companies. In the same way, Internet has allowed hobbyists to find niche circles to share content, but over time larger companies seeking to profit off its services have evaded some of the spaces where those hobbyists share content with one another. It is interesting when two different communication mediums in history follow similar trends of development.

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