The faint sound of Rae Sremmurd’s song “Black Beatles” drifts through the hallway, and students are seen crowded around a smartphone watching the video of people frozen in action. In the distance, a student is seen consciously whipping and dabbing to the beat of a song.
Online trends seem to surface every week, yet the reasons why they are so contagious seem to be elusive. Recently, an online trend dubbed the “mannequin challenge” has spread at an astonishing rate, with various renditions even being made by the Carmel High School student body.
While these videos, photos and tweets may appear merely as inconsequential jokes and clickbait, they actually have great significance and add up.
The 2012 smash hit “Gangnam Style” by now-infamous South Korean artist Psy is a great example. The catchy music video has around 2.69 billion views on YouTube, and if each view accounts for one person watching—although we know that 2.69 billion people did not actually watch it—the video would have already been watched for about 21,516 years straight. Years.
So why do things really go viral? Why do certain songs get stuck in our heads, and others not?
While many people say that having a video, photo or message go viral is like hitting the lottery, it isn’t just luck. There appears to be a few overarching themes of why things go viral.
New York Times bestseller Jonah Berger states that there are six distinct reasons why: social currency, triggers, emotion, public, practical value and stories.
He also concludes that things go viral simply because people communicate and recommend things. Someone is infinitely more likely to use a product that their colleague or friend recommends to them, rather than by an advertisement that they see, for it makes them look good and in-the-know.
It is easy enough to see these trends as mere memes that quickly pass; however, they have a huge impact on popular culture and the advertising industry. Professionals in the marketing and advertising industries are using memes as an opportunity to get their products or ideas out cheaply and quickly.
Other viral content and memes that have been surfacing include the gorilla Harambe, Vice President Joe Biden’s dislike of President-elect Donald Trump, the huh challenge, Drake’s “Hotline Bling,” Carpool Karaoke, “Juju On That Beat” and more. And contrary to what most think, the origin of memes is not modern-day pop culture, but rather 20th century genetics.
According to the Smithsonian Magazine, the actual origin of the word “meme” is based in genetic proposals by scientist Richard Dawkins, who presented in 1973 that ideas are similar to living organisms that are capable of replication and evolution.
Dawkins believes that life relies on replication. So that video that you have seen everywhere? The only reason why you are seeing it now is because one person decided they were going to make a copy of it to share with others in this complex, interconnected network of information.
So the next time that you see a viral meme, keep in mind that there definitely is a method to the madness of its virality. Perhaps by understanding why things go viral, anyone can create catchy material that gets replicated.