Irony of Meme Culture

As Jay Owens has explained, memes are everywhere. 

What’s driving this trend? 

Social media transformed the landscape of social comparison. No longer do we operate at transient, real-world social scale of a few hundred people. 

Now, we’re brands. People are like media companies. 

We operate on a global scale where permanence is the default. 

Instagram turned authenticity into a performance. On social media, we reach thousands of people on a daily basis.

Likes and follower counts trained us to create the kinds of content that would be the most popular, over the realistic depictions of our day-to-day lives.

When you post a photo on Instagram, almost everybody you know in real life will see the photo and judge you subconsciously. 

“Instagram is seen as a huge stressor for many teenagers. Your Instagram defines who you are.” — Eric Herber, 17 years old

We’ve entered an age of post-authentic social media. 

Teens are shifting away from Facebook status updates. 

Now we have Finstagram. 

Wait, what’s Finstagram? 

Fake Instagram, for trash pics and the outtakes real of your main, hyper-curated Instagram account.


Gen Z is rebelling against single, official identities. 

Young people feel like they can be real on their fake accounts. 


How is the internet impacting Gen Z? 

They’re the Sensible Generation.  Every measure of risk taking is down among Gen Z. 

  • Drinking

  • Smoking

  • Drug use

  • Early sexual activity

  • Teenage pregnancies 

In this way, they’re serious. But for every action there’s a re-action. 

Gen Z is oriented towards irony. 

At once, they’re serious and take nothing seriously.

Enter… meme culture — defined by humor and satire. The most up-voted answers on Reddit confirm this.


Teenagers are using humor and irony — through memes — to voice deeper stresses and anxieties. 

Here’s a meme from the London School of Economics (LSE). 


Expressing the pressure they feel to study hard and get a good job. 

Through irony, students express their ambitious, their doubts, and their critics — all at once. These memes come from a place of stress and anxiety.

Through humor, exaggeration and irony, Gen Z can share difficult feelings and truths that they may not have felt able to express straight otherwise. 


Why memes?

It lets Gen Z communicate empathy. Gen Z can come together by liking and sharing memes. 

Through memes, we acknowledge our human similarities. They’re saying, “I am like this too.”

Memes are our shared experience. 

We no longer listen to the same music or watch the same TV shows. Media is splintering.

Memes are our shared language now. 

They’re carrier waves for cultural discussion — our common language. They’re automatically familiar and recognizable. 

Memes are personalized and remixed based on who you are, what you’re feeling, and what you stand for. 

Let’s zoom out.

Memes stir up emotion and generate strong reactions. They encourage attention-grabbing over slow-burning systematic, contextualized thinking. 

Truth is changing form: emotional and moral truths are in ascendance over straightforwardly factual claims.

My favorite example below.


Here’s how Robin Sloan described the American Chopper meme:

“This is the only meme format that acknowledges the existence of competing information, and as such it is the only format suited to the complexity of our world!”


Technology warps reality in weird ways. 

First we shape our tools and then, our tools shape us. 

Study memes to study the future.