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Essential resources for internet culture

Last night we had some visitors (hooray! visitors!), both sociology professors (this happens when you move in certain social circles, it seems.)  And, as will happen when you put people who study sociology for a living in a room with people who studied sociology – and in my case anthropology – in school, we fell to talking about the various weird and wonderful ways that internet culture develops.

…Okay, sometimes just the weird ways.  But you get the idea.

The point is, eventually we ended up on the subject of cultural memes on the internet, how they develop, and how one can go about keeping pace with them.  We eventually whittled the essential resources down to:

  1. 4chan.

    I won’t link to this here, and I especially will not link to /b/ – let it not be said that I have led anyone down that particular path unawares.  However, it is true that 4chan in general and particularly /b/ serves as a kind of collective id for internet users – a stew of primordial thought-genes constantly colliding and combining with one another until finally one of them becomes strong enough to achieve escape velocity and appear on the internet at large as a meme.  (Hmm.  Some very mangled quasi-scientific metaphors there.  Ah well.  Somehow that seems appropriate in this case.)

    The thing about 4chan is that it is akin to the abyss.  If you gaze long into it, it gazes also into you.  And there is, occasionally, some very, very disturbing stuff on 4chan.   You must be prepared to accidentally encounter it if you brave that wilderness.

    If you’d like to learn more about 4chan without actually taking the plunge and going there, there’s always the convenient entry at That Wiki.

  2. Encyclopedia Dramatica.

    If you’ve just spotted something on Twitter, for example, and aren’t sure why the heck this seems to be so relevant to anyone, you could do worse than look up the mystery thing on Encyclopedia Dramatica.  Odds are good that you will find at least a little about the object of your interest there, along with a heaping helping of satire (and yes, very possibly trolling.)

    Be advised, of course, that ED is a parody of an encyclopedia, and treat information discovered there accordingly – as jumping-off point rather than definitive reference.

    Read more about Encyclopedia Dramatica at That Wiki.

  3. Know Your Meme.

    This meme database/video series is perhaps my personal favorite of the meme resources.  In addition to a spiffy little database of memes with origins and dates, there is also a series of charming little videos explaining selected memes, why some people find them funny, and where they come from.

    What’s especially awesome about these is that you can easily send videos explaining (for example) “Om nom nom” to your parents and they’re very likely to be able to get the idea, even if they don’t spend much time on the internet normally.  Couple that with high-quality video presentation and a friendly browsing environment and you have a winner.  Of course, the high production values mean that Know Your Meme isn’t quite as up to date as we might sometimes like – but it’s a small tradeoff, really, considering.

    Read about Know Your Meme at That Wiki.

  4. And, to a lesser extent, the mighty TV Tropes, of which we have already spoken.

Of course, none of these are Reference Resources in the academic sense, so I wouldn’t recommend using any of these for a research paper (unless of course you are doing so as primary sources!)  But they are good fun, and good ways to keep yourself posted on what the bizarre thing that just landed in your inbox is.  So go forth and explore.  (Just don’t say I didn’t warn you. ;))

On a mostly unrelated note, this smartphone app is genius: it turns your to-do list into a roleplaying game, awarding you points for every task you complete.  I love the idea, but feel it is rather tragic that I didn’t think of it first.

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