In 1976, Richard Dawkins coined the term “meme” to indicate “an idea, behaviour, or style that spreads from person to person within a culture.” Today, we’re most familiar with these in Internet form, usually humorous images or sayings that get passed from computer to computer. However, memes can be used for more than just cat photos, as I’ve had the privilege to experience myself.
When setting up Rubbish Walks last year, I mentioned it to a friend in Bristol. This sparked a continuing dialogue about rubbish in our communities, and has encouraged her to pick up along her own street after the binmen have visited each week. She and her husband have also started collecting litter when they go for walks in the countryside or along the coast. I also discussed it with co-workers, the result of which may be the development of a high-tech litter recording device.
So if you want to bring about a positive social change—whether it’s stopping litter or something else—don’t overlook the power of memes: transmitting your ideas and letting people adapt them to their own situation can reap dividends.