I’m 60. Which is not old. But it’s old-er. Old-ish. Old enough that some trends puzzle me. Oftentimes my confusion has to do with Internet memes. Let’s start with what a meme is. (And then we’ll get to the virtual reality meme that’s sweeping the Internets.) According to Wikipedia, a meme is “an idea, behavior, or style that spreads from person to person within a culture.”
The term “meme” was invented by an older person than I am, the philosopher Richard Dawkins, in his 1976 book The Selfish Gene. The idea is that memes are like genes: they replicate and evolve. The cleverest memes act like viruses and get reproduced in all their silly glory, practically talking for the Internet for a while.
Sometimes I find memes confusing, but sometimes I find them hilarious. Like the one conquering the webs right now that’s based on the Time cover story about virtual reality.
Some techies are mad that the Time cover made Oculus Rift VR founder Palmer Luckey look awkward. And that the story made fun of geeky people looking geeky in their—let’s face it—extremely geeky headgear.
I have some first-hand experience with this particular corner of geek-dom. Last year, Ken Birdwell invited me and some other Pixelkin staffers over to Valve to try out their new VR headset, the Vive. I’m sure I looked weird in it, just like Palmer Lucky, but oh my god was it amazing to try out virtual reality. I put on the Vive prototype and I was standing on a diving board at the top of a deep pit. Ken told me to step off, and I couldn’t. I was terrified. That’s how real it feels. Virtual reality is going to transform life on this planet. It’ll be used in games, like Valve’s Portal (which I also got to walk around in), and it’ll be used for a million other things—from staff meetings to doing surgery.
I walked out of Valve a changed woman, thrilled about the possibilities VR technology will offer us. And not caring if I looked weird in the headset.
So embrace your meme, Palmer Luckey. Pretty soon everyone will be looking awkward in the their VR headsets just like you and me. Here’s a compilation of the best of the Palmer Lucky memes, made by Polygon: