In yesterday’s blog, I discussed the parallels between memes and genes. I spoke about how memes are shared and spread. I also spoke about the role of photographs both in the acceleration of the memes they represent and in the maintenance of their fidelity. So wait, memes are shared, they spread,and they mutate! This is to say that memes are self-replicating and that they evolve. The evolution of human culture is driven by memes, just like the evolution of species is driven by genes.
The important point is that human beings have evolved a whole new form of evolution. They are no longer strictly held captive by genetic evolution. Primitive man developed a simple tool, say a sharpened rock. Each individual from each generation didn’t have to come upon this meme himself. It could be past on, replicated, between individuals and across the generations. The meme “tool” evolved until we find ourselves no longer banging rocks together, but rather banging away at the keyboards of our computers.
Some have argued that it is not speech, nor language, nor the size of our brains that separates us from other animal species, but rather our development of a whole new form of evolution that frees us completely from the slavery of genetic evolution. This has always struck me as a bit self serving and arrogant. Are we truly different from other species in a way that truly sets us apart? As we pollute our planet and slowly raise its temperature, as we approach that point when the ocean currents that control our climate will shut down, I think that the jury remains out as to whether we will, as all other species, eventually go extinct. However, the powerful role that memes, and images, as a dominant form of meme, play in our lives and culture still ring true. They have given us the ability to develop technology at breakneck speed.
So we start to see why human connectedness in a digital age, where images can and are shared at blinding velocity, is such a force in our lives and cultures. Images as memes are unifying. They connect us with what is our common perception. Herein, I believe, lies the meaning of image and photography.