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Editorial - The Rise Of The Watch Meme

Editorial The Rise Of The Watch Meme

…and why I absolutely love it

I’m going to make two assumptions about you right now. Firstly, you like watches. Secondly, you enjoy being on the internet. The first assumption may seem kind of obvious, because who else would frequent a watch website, if not someone who likes watches? That said, the number of times I’ve seen negative comments from Lizzo haters on YouTube videos of her music clearly suggests to me that there are people out there (who have a lot of time on their hands) who expressly visit sites featuring content they find objectionable. I find this inexplicable, but I suppose human nature is inexplicable. The second assumption is more firmly based on cold, hard logic. Because no one would subject themselves to an environment they find wholly unpleasant just to indulge a non-essential interest. And yes, as passionate as I am about horology, I’m still self-aware enough to acknowledge that watches are not exactly a basic human need. On the strength of these two assumptions, I’m going to make a third one. You’re familiar with the watch meme.

The following explanation is probably unnecessary, but I’m going to make it anyway. A meme is an anthropological phenomenon; it describes ideas or behaviours that spread within communities via social and cultural transmission. It is analogous to the gene in biological contexts, which propagates certain physical characteristics or attributes through a community of organisms. You might say that a meme is a cultural and sociological “gene” that gets passed around communities and is retained in the community’s cultural “DNA” even if subsequent generations no longer manifest or express this “gene”. The word “meme” is etymologically related to “memetic” and “mimesis” — all of which have associations with copied behaviour or the transmission of ideas.

Online, the meme has taken on a very specific sense, referring to images with overlaid text, used to make a humorous point. Of course, there exist plenty of memes that are racist or sexist, exhibiting some rather reprehensible ideas, and most decent-minded people would not find them in the least funny. The point to be made here, however, is that the people who make them think they’re funny, and disseminate them to people who also find them funny. A meme is always rooted in someone’s perception of shared humour.

And this is where the watch meme comes in. Humour is a social mechanism that only makes sense in communities above a certain size, otherwise it’s just a weird inside reference that only a few people understand. Two old classmates cracking jokes that make sense only if you were in their group of friends at school 30 years ago — not exactly the kind of material that makes a top-ranking Netflix comedy special. Memes related to a specific subject will begin to appear in the online sphere once that subject becomes widely known or trendy. Witness the slew of Amber Heard vs Johnny Depp memes floating around a few weeks ago, or the fact that cryptocurrency memes didn’t really exist until a couple of years ago. If something reaches meme status, that means it’s a bona fide part of the culture we live in today.

As a consequence, someone who’s not part of a community will quickly discover that the most efficient (and amusing) way to get a sense of the current issues preoccupying that community is to check out a social media account dedicated to memes. There are Facebook accounts, Twitter accounts, Instagram accounts and Tiktok accounts that feed the community of watch lovers with memes, and each of them documents the burning topics of the day. The MoonSwatch collaboration between Omega and Swatch dominated the horological side of social media earlier this year. Right now, memes making light of or poking fun at the low inventory stocks and long waiting lists of certain popular brands are rampant.

The point at which something ceases to be an insiders-only joke and starts being a meme, is the point at which a sub-culture becomes mainstream. Not all watch memes are to my taste. Some of them are kind of mean. Others I find obvious or low-effort; some memes I just flat-out disagree with. Like most things related to humour, it’s all subjective. What I appreciate equally about all watch memes is the fact that they’re being made, that they’re being shared, and that they’re being understood in their rightful context. Because that tells me, my dear WorldTempus family, that our community is steadily growing and developing. And that’s something I definitely want to hit “like” on.


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