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Dumb, Dishonest Memers

Many people really like internet "memes", reaction gifs, emojis, funny photos, short videos, etc.

Themes here include: few words, usually not even one complete sentence, more seeing something and less reading.

Why do people like this?

They don't like to think. Reading is hard. Creating or understanding sentences is thinking. A sentence expresses a thought. Less than a sentence means not thinking through a whole though enough for words.

It's very primitive. It's also a sort of reversion to oral culture from written culture. Not a complete reversion. Books aren't disappearing. It's just that most people don't like books. And maybe it's not a reversion since I guess most people never liked books. The majority who didn't like words didn't write down their opinions in books much. But now the internet has gone super mainstream so they are communicating in public a lot. It's more revealing a problem than anything getting worse.

I thought of a different reason. It's not just that thinking takes thought and sentences are thoughts and they often don't consciously know what they mean or think, or why and don't want to figure it out.

It's also that sentences are connected with honesty. Saying what you mean is clearer to both yourself and others. A dishonest person prefers to live with a mental fog that helps hide the dishonesty.

Ambiguity and leaving a lot unstated gives room for all sorts of dishonesty and bias. Formulating thoughts in sentences is part of facing reality. (Dishonesty is a rebellion against reality. It thrives among those who spend their time dealing with people instead of things. Dishonesty is encouraged in many ways in the social world but is discouraged in and by the natural world.)

Elliot Temple on December 4, 2019

Messages (6)

All the explanations you've discussed are negative interpretations.

Have you tried to think of any positive interpretations?

Anonymous at 8:51 AM on December 5, 2019 | #14702 | reply | quote

#14702 I wasn't aiming for completeness. And yes I have. Have *you* thought of any positive explanations?

Here are some partially positive partial explanations:

Memeing started with young people who hate their parents and teachers – for good reason. They associate their parents and teachers with books, proper sentences, etc.

The ambiguity of memeing helps protect young people from punishment by tyrannical authorities. It lets them speak more freely and sneak it past the censors (their parents and teachers). It gives them plausible deniability.

curi at 11:12 AM on December 5, 2019 | #14704 | reply | quote

That's not a positive interpretation of the idea of memes and GIFs itself. That's just saying people might do a bad thing for good reason.

Anonymous at 3:04 PM on December 5, 2019 | #14707 | reply | quote

What about subconscious knowledge?

Anonymous at 3:05 PM on December 5, 2019 | #14708 | reply | quote

I've frequently had similar thoughts on (internet) memes and the interesting way that they've affected discourse. I hadn't considered how they affect our thinking itself, but that makes perfect sense.

I've been noticing an adjacent feature of meme discourse. Especially troubling to me is the frequency I see Tweets (or fragments of them) posted with a "refutation" or commentary or whatever attached to it. This doesn't always quite meet the qualification of less than a sentence, but seems relevant.

Especially in the context of social media, where our average engagement with a post is short and superficial, it lends a kind of false sense of completion to the idea or argument. Original thought, refutation/cynical observation/ad hominem, over.

The original thinker has no opportunity to refute or dispute or add context. The reader (usually) is unmotivated to unpack or expand on the implication of the meme, especially when it confirms an existing bias."

Your thoughts on the partial reversion to oral cultures is especially interesting. A few weeks ago, I read Ted Chiang's short story "The Truth of Fact, The Truth of Feeling."

The story explores the relationship between oral/written/digital cultures and the way they influence/are influenced by the cognitive suites of their members. In the story, though, the "digital" culture has perfect memory. This influences the way they think.

How has/will a reversion to oral culture--oral culture 1.5 affect our collective cognition? I hadn't thought about how memes might naturally gravitate towards dishonesty, but it makes sense.

How many of these consequences are specific to internet meme use and how many are more broadly consequences of social media communication in general?

Thanks for the post,


pdxthehunted at 2:09 PM on December 6, 2019 | #14729 | reply | quote

I don't think social media is the problem. It's just a tool. Overall I think the internet is great and makes things much better.

Some current designs, like Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat and Reddit, are structured badly to encourage irrational interaction. But less popular formats like blogs, email discussion groups (formerly usenet) and standard web forums (like phpbb) are basically fine. The problem is lots of people have bad taste, which isn't getting worse over time[1], it's just more visible now that they share a ton of public communications. The main problems ultimately underlying that include bad philosophy ideas and irrational parenting/education.

[1] It's not getting worse on average, overall, but some particular aspects are getting worse at any given time. Also there do exist current civilizational dangers but IMO they're just at the point of important risks rather than civilization actually going downhill yet. But it's hard to tell.

curi at 10:55 PM on December 6, 2019 | #14739 | reply | quote

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