A Brief History of Crypto Memes
In today’s article, we run through the history of the meme, how it applies to the internet and now cryptocurrency, and help explain some of the frequently-used slang and terminology behind them. After all, how could you possibly “shoot for the moon” and avoid being a “bagholder” if you don’t understand what these terms mean? We’ll help you figure it all out through a series of some of our favorite and most important memes to ever hit the cryptospace.
What the Heck is a Meme, Anyway?
Believe it or not, memes have been around far longer than the internet itself. You may be surprised to learn that the originator of the term is none other than the famed evolutionary biologist / outspoken atheist Richard Dawkins. Dawkins, in his best-selling and highly-influential book, The Selfish Gene, proposed that a meme is actually a physical structure that resides in the human brain, and an idea that can be represented by a combination of memories recorded by any or all of the five senses.
We need a name for the new replicator, a noun that conveys the idea of a unit of cultural transmission, or a unit of imitation. ‘Mimeme’ comes from a suitable Greek root, but I want a monosyllable that sounds a bit like ‘gene’. I hope my classicist friends will forgive me if I abbreviate mimeme to meme. If it is any consolation, it could alternatively be thought of as being related to ‘memory’, or to the French word même. It should be pronounced to rhyme with ‘cream’.
– Richard Dawkins, in the 2nd edition of The Selfish Gene, published in 1989, from the chapter titled Memes: the new replicators.
Wikipedia defines the term meme as “an idea, behavior, or style that spreads from person to person within a culture — often with the aim of conveying a particular phenomenon, theme, or meaning represented by the meme.” In his book, Dawkins regarded memes as “living structures,” capable of reproduction, evolution, and requiring elements from nature for survival (in this case, a “host” of the human brain) — all of which are classical components that define life itself.
The History of Internet Memes
The image displayed above is not some psychedelic, Pollock-esque fractal painting, but rather a visual representation of how internet addresses (otherwise known as IP addresses) communicate with one another, effectively sharing information from device to device around the globe. This network of “internet routing paths” is what allows memes to spread themselves and depending on how well they are liked or disliked, they are further propagated, trans mutated, and evolved.
The idea of the internet meme was first proposed by digital communications attorney and ex-Wikimedia Foundation member Mike Godwin, who is generally hailed as a savior of free speech on the internet. As early as 1990, Godwin fought relentless battles with the U.S. federal government on issues that would seem trivial today, and for rights that we now take for granted (like whether Wikipedia should be allowed to use the FBI’s logo on the Wikipedia page for the FBI – they are – thanks to Godwin). He also has the distinction of being the founder and namesake of “Godwin’s Law,” which states:
As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches 1.
This was his conclusion after years spent in arguments on digital bulletin boards systems (BBSs), long before the terms trolling, FUD, and cyber bullying became popular in modern versions of social media. Godwin’s contribution to the idea of the internet meme stems from his recognition that internet memes differed from regular memes in that they could be stored permanently, were traceable, and lived on computer servers rather than in the human mind.
So, what was the very first internet meme? While nobody can say for sure, it is usually accredited to a popular animated GIF created in 1998, known as The Hamster Dance. An accompanying musical track was released as a single two years later, and by 2005, the meme had been accredited as the “number one internet fad” according to the technology website CNET.
In January 2007, perhaps the most popular meme to ever be created was accidented upon by Hawaii-born blogger and software developer Eric Nakagawa, through a quick stroke of creative genius, in which he captioned a picture of a somewhat playful-looking cat with the immortal words, “I Can Has Cheezburger?” For his creation, Nakagawa used the impact font style that went on to be associated with thousands of memes that followed.
“It’s like you’re creating a story supplied by people in the community, and then the people in the community supply the next part of the story,” said Nakagawa in a 2007 interview with Business Week magazine. This was Nakagawa’s 21st century-updated take on the idea of the meme, as first espoused by Richard Dawkins some 30 years earlier. Nakagawa later went on to spearhead one of the first successful cryptocurrency charity projects, known as Doge4Water, in which donations collected in the form of Dogecoins (DOGE) were used to help build wells in water-scarce areas of Kenya, Africa.
Dogecoin: The World’s First Memecoin
Amused by the idea that people would buy just about anything related to crypto, computer programmer and bitcoin enthusiast Jackson Palmer bought the domain name dogecoin.com in 2013, under the auspices of creating the first “joke coin.” Based on a fork of Litecoin (LTC) and featuring 1-minute blocks (as opposed to bitcoin’s 10-minute blocks), Dogecoin’s logo featured a popular cartoon rendering of a vacuous-looking Shiba Inu dog breed photo that had been the subject of various memes in preceding years. Dogecoin became tremendously popular within a matter of months after launch, being incorporated into Reddit as a tipping service by 2014.
In later years, Palmer distanced himself from the project, stating not only his dismay that Dogecoin had been “hijacked” by greedy members of its community, but also that it had become too serious, removed too far from its roots as being a joke. Recently, in an interview with CoinTelegraph, Palmer stated his dismay of what had become of his creation:
Sadly, I think many of the negative traits that were present in the space back in 2013 have only been amplified in the 2017-18 cryptocurrency community. The bulk of recent interest in the technology was not driven by its ability to solve real-world problems or provide actual utility to users – rather it was purely driven by the pursuit of making a quick buck. Obviously, that’s not sustainable, but we’ve seen literally thousands of projects spun up to try and exploit the attention that greed has brought in.
The (apparently intentional) mis-spelling of the word “HOLD,” meant to be applied to the investor philosophy of holding on to your bitcoins no matter what price swings they may endure, originated from a 2013 post on bitcointalk.org, by anonymous user GameKyuubi. So far, “HODLING” has proven to be a tremendously successful strategy for cryptocurrency traders, with the original bitcointalk post being viewed almost 800,000 times over the next 5 years. “HODL” memes are probably the most ubiquitous of the crypto memes. Here are a few of our favorites to spring out of GameKyuubi’s post:
Greed, Mad Wealth and Lambos
If a successful coin is “HODL’d” for long enough, it stands a chance of “moonshotting” (as the expression “to the moon!” – first adopted by the Dogecoin community – refers to hopes of an exponential rise in price over a short period of time, which still happens in the crypto world on a daily basis). After this occurrence, HODLers can unload, or sell their “stash,” using the proceeding profits (or “mad wealth”) to acquire a “Lambo.”
Indeed, the Lamborghini car brand is experiencing a resurgence in popularity thanks to the sudden influx of crypto millionaires, which have multiplied at an astonishing rate over the last 2 years. A Lambo is regarded as the materialized pinnacle of success in the crypto world, though realistically speaking, it remains out of reach for most investors and sane people in general. Regardless, the sudden acquisition of “mad wealth” and “Lambos” make for some great memes in the cryptosphere.
If a coin never goes “to the moon,” lacks developers to keep it functional or otherwise does not live up to fantastic expectations, its buyers are then referred to as “bagholders,” as in they are left holding a metaphorical bag of worthless cryptocurrencies or tokens. Indeed, the level of greed and unrealistic expectations held by many cryptocurrency investors/traders (which tend to be of a more immature age than traditional Wall Street traders) is beyond most comparisons, and neither physically nor mentally healthy, truth be told.
Here are a few more of our favorite crypto meme subjects and accompanying examples, which pretty much speak for themselves (that’s what a meme is intended to do, after all):
ASICs (Cryptocurrency Mining Equipment)
Ubiquity of Altcoins & Tokens
Roger Ver (former Bitcoin Core team member, current Bitcoin Cash proponent, previously nicknamed “Bitcoin Jesus” by the media)
As the world becomes more “woke” to the idea of bitcoin, cryptocurrency and the blockchain, the potential for future meme-age is “yuge.” Even if cryptocurrency ultimately proves to be only a short-lived fad (we don’t see this as the case), the memes created around it will likely live on, perhaps for decades or even centuries to come. What are some of your favorite crypto memes? We’d like to know — feel free to post a link to them in the comment section below.