Memes, Social Chemistry, and Humor

Memes  Social Chemistry  and Humor

Some books work for some people. Read them at the right time, and they give you the insights you need. Some work for others, or in other circumstances. That's why I write about collections on a topic or related topics.

You can find my readings archives here.


Memes, social chemistry, and Humor

The topics I selected for this batch of reading suggestions are connected in more than one way. Originally classified as genetic material, we've become more familiar with memes in culture. Funny ones tend to spread faster. Value is in the ability to cause positive change.

Of course, memes as things that go viral capitalize on social chemistry to spread. As does humor. We laugh alone, but laughing together somehow improves the enjoyment. Unless, of course, we're laughing at someone's expenses. With an exception. Self-deprecating humor can be healthy in small doses.


Memes in Digital Culture by Limor Shifman, Senior Lecturer in the Department of Communication and Journalism at Hebrew University of Jerusalem

Thesis: what a meme is, and understanding how they work in the dynamic environment of digital culture.

“Gangnam Style” became the first YouTube clip to be viewed more than one billion times. It was 2012. Since then, we've seen many memes circulate online. Other well-known Internet memes include “Leave Britney Alone,” the pepper-spraying cop, LOLCats, Scumbag Steve, and Occupy Wall Street's “We Are the 99 Percent.”

Bernie Sanders watching the inauguration on a chair with mittens crossed has been one of the latest to spread globally. The memes alone just get attention. Sanders capitalized on the attention to do good. I picked the funny ones, because humor does work better.

Having said that. This is an academic book. So it may not be everyone's cup of espresso.

Ostensibly, they [memes] are trivial pieces of pop culture; yet, a deeper look reveals that they play an integral part in some of the defining events of the twenty-first century.

Memes do help us understand digital culture. Mainly how we communicate ideas and concepts. More on the origin of memes. And the value of culture to the art of meme creation.


Social Chemistry: Decoding the Patterns of Human Connection by Marissa King, professor of Organizational Behavior at the Yale School of Management

Thesis: there are three basic types of networks: Expansionist, Broker, or Convener. This network decoder is useful to align network styles to suit life plans and values.

The classification may remind you of Gladwell's Connectors, Mavens, and Salespeople. An important new application of King's concepts that comes to mind is how we deal with family. Also, if you're a person who prefers to ground concepts into research, this book has plenty of it.

Social scientists have spent the last four decades studying the antecedents and consequences of social network structure. How your network is shaped (consciously or unconsciously has enormous implications for a wide variety of personal and professional outcomes. The strength and quality of your social connections and their arrangement profoundly affect your experience of the world, your emotion, and your personal and professional success.

If you're not familiar with the work of Robin Dunbar, and are looking for a primer on the types of social connections, this book may be for you.


Humor, Seriously: Why Humor Is a Secret Weapon in Business and Life by Jennifer Aaker, the General Atlantic Professor at the Stanford Graduate School of Business, and Naomi Bagdonas, lecturer at the Stanford Graduate School of Business and an executive coach

Thesis: we under utilize humor at work and in professional settings.

Humor is powerful. It's part of the human experience. But it's also deeply rooted in culture. So handle with care. This is not an academic treatment of the topic. If you're looking for that kind of research, I suggest The Psychology of Humor by Rod A. Martin.

The chapter on the anatomy of funny is most useful:

  • At the heart of humor is truth.
  • All humor contains surprise and misdirection (it comes from the incongruity between what we expect and what actually happens.)
  • To find the funny, notice (i) differences (incongruity); (ii) emotion; (iii) opinion; (iv) pain; and (v) delight.
  • To form the funny: (i) exaggerate; (ii) create contrast; (iii) use specifics; (iv) make analogies; and (v) follow the "rule of three" (list two normal elements, then add an unexpected third element.)
  • To be spontaneously funny, (important) notice the here and now and use callbacks.
  • Tips to deliver the funny: pause before the punch, act it out, dial up the drama, repeat funny lines, and land with confidence.
  • Punch up, not down. If you're a leader, use self-deprecating humor.

Hiroki Asai, head of Apple’s Creative Design Studio, says: “Fear is the greatest killer of creativity,” and humor is the most effective tool I’ve found for insulating cultures from fear.

And John Cleese: “I’m struck by how laughter connects you with people. It’s almost impossible to maintain any kind of distance or any sense of social hierarchy when you’re just howling with laughter.”

From the authors:

We all want meaning in our lives. And yet, there are times when work and life get serious and hard, mundane and stressful. Having a sense of humor doesn’t just punctuate and offset the seriousness—it allows the meaning to come through.

Humor charms and disarms. Even small gestures of levity are powerful in negotiations, in part because they spark human connection—and when we connect as people, we often get more of what we both want.

I find that my dry sense of humor (I play with words) ebbs and flows with energy. When you're in an environment of high trust, humor can help people overcome difficult circumstances. Humor can help release tension. It can also resolve absurdity. But people use it also as aggressive display.

Semiotician Chris Arning has done extensive work for the BBC on getting humor right. Mind you, his research was for entertainment potential. The challenge was to gain a comprehensive overview of the types, forms, and tonality of content that meets the British need for humour

I've come to appreciate and enjoy British humor. Different cultures metabolize humor differently. Because of historical context. I have different jokes for my Italian friends than I do for peers in the U.S. Get the nuance wrong and your aim will miss the mark, and create unnecessary upset.

Like sarcasm, humor is hard for machines to identify. For example, I noted that in professional settings, Italians will end a heated conversation where there's disagreement with “buona giornata,” or something to that effect. A machine would think it a polite way to end an exchange. But the nice words are meant as an end to wasting my time with this conversation, and a send-off of the person with it.

Levity makes us appear more competent and confident, research shows. It strengthens relationships, unlocks creativity, and boosts our resilience during difficult times. These results explain why 98 percent of executives prefer employees with a sense of humor, and 84 percent believe that these employees do better work.

But even when people understand humor's power as a way to read and write culture, few know how to wield it with intention.

Humor fades in proportion to one's rung on the corporate ladder. Can you remember the last time you heard a CEO or executive break into a belly laugh?

Something to think about.


More books with a sense of humor here.

, ,

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *