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Don't dismiss Millennials and our Internet memes

The Internet meme is my generation's protest sign, our letter to the editor, our political cartoon. Our digital commentary and social media campaigns represent an informed engagement that older generations shouldn't dismiss. And our online activities help push offline change.

By Correspondent / September 6, 2013

Former NSA contractor Edward Snowden is pictured here June 9 in Hong Kong. Images of Mr. Snowden have been made into a popular meme with the caption “Team Edward" – a reference to the phrase used by fans of the character Edward Cullen from the popular Twilight book and films series.

Photo: Glenn Greenwald & Laura Poitras/The Guardian/AP

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Articles like Joel Stein's recent Time magazine cover story on "The Me Me Me Generation," as well as books like Mark Bauerlein’s "The Dumbest Generation," are hallmarks of what has become quite a trend: legitimized "Millennial bashing."

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Contributor

Colby Bermel was a summer 2013 intern at The Christian Science Monitor, working in the op-ed and People Making a Difference departments. Born in Atlanta and raised in Boston, Colby is a sophomore at Principia College in Elsah, Illinois, where he is double majoring in political science and mass communication. He is passionate about Twitter, music, and general shenanigans.

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They say we're lazy, narcissistic, and overly dependent on our electronics. That we're freeloaders who live at home for far too long.

Yes, some criticisms of those born between 1980 and 2000 are merited. But we Millennials are certainly more informed and engaged in civic discourse than our detractors realize. Our engagement just looks different than that of our boomer parents.

We're not just using social media to take "selfies." We are commenting on news, issues, public figures. My Facebook feed is populated by my peers posting articles and discussing topics both light-hearted and serious.

Perhaps the greatest testament to our generation's Internet commentary skills is our essential invention and popularization of the digital "meme" (rhymes with "cream").

The term was conceived by British behavioral scientist Richard Dawkins in 1976, and the Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines it in general terms as "an idea, behavior, style, or usage that spreads from person to person within a culture." On the Internet in the 21st century, there are many kinds of memes – catchphrases, animations known as GIFs – but the most common type is an image overlaid with text. They're found on meme-specific websites and often go viral on social media.

Many memes are solely comical. Take the Business Cat meme, with lines like: "We need to focus on the fourth quarter. I batted the first three under the couch."

But memes are also used to make social observations and critiques. A meme that was recently popular on the social news website Reddit is Old Economy Steven. Tacked onto a photo of a boomer male in his 20s are lines like "Bought a house in his 20s with a 9-to-5 job that didn't require a bachelor's degree … says kids have it easy these days."

Memes have become an important forum for airing views – and inspiring discussion – on current events. BuzzFeed has put together a list of some of the best memes reacting to President Obama's announcement that he plans to strike Syria in response to alleged chemical weapons attacks by the Assad regime.

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