Ask Me Anything with Matt Klein, Director of Strategy at sparks & honey, expert in cultural research and cyberpsychology, Noonies nominee

Matt Klein is a Director of Strategy at sparks & honey, a cultural consultancy, and a writer at Forbes, analyzing memes and media theory. He studies emergent cultural trends and the interplay of our technology and psychology to help businesses make sense of the now, next and future.

With experience working alongside organizations including Google, MetLife, Columbia, American Airlines, AB-InBev and Facebook, as well as non-profits and government agencies, he has become a trusted source in identifying cultural change and developing future-proofing business strategies.

With an academic background in Psychology, Film and Media Studies, Matt’s passion and concentration is in CyberPsychology, Memes and Virality—how and why do certain ideas or behaviors spread in online social spaces? How do we shape the internet as it shapes us?

Ask Him Anything and join the AMA on September 18th, 10 am EST!

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Hi Matt!
What is the lifecycle of meme creation - its birth, virality and decay?

How do you think the availability that social networks provide influence our perception of trust in the relationships?

Why TikTok has become so viral recently? Any other examples of social networks that might go viral in nearest future?

Thanks!

How much of the Internet is really shaped by the cultural trends, not dictated by centralized search engines?

Hi Matt! How the use of AI might differ depending from the country (=culture) of its usage?
Thanks!

Can memes influence our real life behavioral patterns?

How cultural theory may help in business processes advancement? Can you tell about some of the most profound examples of this influence from your experience?

Thanks!

Thanks for doing it!
How has the pandemic influenced Internet usage patterns and what businesses should learn from it?

Also, what is your favorite tech meme?

Hi! Does people psychology differ between Internet and real life?
Do you think that Internet does play a huge role in polarising the exteremes?

Thanks!

Hi! Do you think Internet can satisfy basic human needs enough?

Hi! How can we analyze information in the Internet more critically and avoid getting stucked in the information bubble?

Hi, Jonathan. I think we should first define “meme” for this question. If we’re using Dawkins’ definition from his 1976 book The Selfish Gene, a meme is merely an idea or behavior that spreads. Therefore, fashion, language and religion are all “memes”, and in this case lifecycles could be decades or centuries.

The other way of looking at memes (in the more popular sense) is to define them as an image or behavior that gets remixed rapidly online. Distracted Boyfriend is one type of meme where a label format tells a story, but while Distracted Boyfriend may slowly fade over time, the label format continues to thrive via other memes. Sooo long short: there is really no easy answer when predicting the timeline of a given meme. Some features get reincarnated in other memes, while others strike a nerve in culture giving it a longer lifeline. Cultural events, headlines and even other memes can influence the longevity of one. With all that said, as cultural change and content production accelerates, lifecycles will certainly shrink.

One cool tool I like using is Google Trends, which tracks the popularity of search terms over time. You can then quantify and visualize a meme’s rise and decay. For example, you can search Distracted Boyfriend and see the immediate rise and slow decrease in interest. To really geek out, you can then compare other memes. If you layer on Epstein Didn’t Kill Himself you can see the more extreme volume, rise and fall relative to Distracted Boyfriend, exemplifying that point: there’s no typical lifecycle.

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Hi there!
Can you recommend some resources to navigate in cultutral aspect of technology usage?

1000%. Yes.

Nathan Jurgenson coined the term: The Digital Dualism Fallacy, which notes that many people think that their online and offline lives are separate. That’s simply not the case. What happens online influences our offline behavior, while our away-from-keyboard (AFK) lives dictate our online experiences. There is just one reality.

Take: Planking, Dabbing, Harlem Shaking, Nae Naeing, Running Manning, Ball Pit Jumping, Gallon Smashing, Pokémon Go Catching, Hot Pepper Eating, Kylie Jenner Lip Suctioning, and Mannequinning. These are intrinsically online memes that have evidently permeated our “AFK lives.” They’re one in the same.

I’m most fascinated with Dangerous Memes, or online challenges that are questionable at best and deadly at their worst. This is the perfect example of how our online memes inform our real life behavioral patterns with negative consequences.

If you’re interested in reading more on this topic, check out my piece: Our Memes Are Trying To Kill Us.

Hi, Ryan. There’s a concept called The Digital Dualism Fallacy, which I bring up on another answer, that I think is critical in unpacking this super deep question. The idea is that our online and offline lives are just one. What we do online influences our away-from-keyboard experiences, while our offline experiences inform our online behavior. With this said, we really just have one reality and experience, and therefore there is no line separation.

That said… I’m going to argue slightly against this very idea because we’re discussing “psychology” in particular. Erving Goffman, a famed Sociologist, noted that we’re different people to different audiences. In other words, we approach each social interaction uniquely dependent upon who we’re interacting with. So when we think about online interactions, I would argue that our psychology may actually change. I may think and behave one way with my collogues in the office, but when I go online and interact with an online community of let’s say cyclists, I’m now interacting with them slightly differently, showing another facet of my self that I wouldn’t reveal to my collogues.

Your question is written so well and in a way that answering “it never changes because there’s only one reality, and it always changes because we’re constantly interacting with new people online” both make sense in my mind.

The sudden rise in TikTok is quite fascinating to me considering Vine had its fair chance years ago and never came close to the same success. I’d argue both their features and intention were one in the same: bite-sized, social, entertaining videos.

I tweeted a while back: “Despite Vine and TikTok being nearly identical in premise, it’s noteworthy that there have been more “iconic” Vines than there have been TikToks, while there have been more repeatable memes on TikTok than Vine.”

What makes TikTok significantly different is its ability to quickly remix (ie. re-using the sound for your own video, and exploring other iterations with that same sound). TikTok in my opinion is the perfect meme platform. That’s all it really is: an internet meme engine. Frequently, half the work is already done (the audio is pre-created), which ultimately makes participation low-barrier. Because videos are often light-hearted and silly, it makes content digestion also easy (and addicting).

I think that TikTok’s algorithm and community are two other driving factors which Vine didn’t have on the same scale.

As far as other social apps, I’m bullish on “tight-community.” We’ve exhausted our social network. We’re now connected to everyone, and we’re finding that quantity is not the same as quality. Apps which connect like-minded individuals around interests, hobbies and values I think are poised for success. Reddit has a bright future IMO. They’re just getting started. But that’s not to say others can’t play the same game and take “community” even smaller: families, couples, etc.

Hi, Lewis.

Culture is paramount to business process advancement. Excuse the ambiguity for confidentiality reasons, but there are countless ways to leverage culture to inform significant business decisions. A couple more sexy examples:

If you’re a food or beverage brand, you’re betting on what people want to be consuming before they know themselves. A practice here would be to do social listening, understanding how people feel about certain fringe ingredients such as cactus, turmeric or cricket protein. How are they casually talking about it online? Over time you can track the sentiment around certain ingredients and consider bringing them into product lines.

Another example would be for the entertainment industry. If you’re a television producer or Hollywood studio, you want to ensure your content is going to be relevant and resonant with audiences. This is particularly difficult with constantly changing thoughts and behaviors, and typically long production timelines. We can identify emergent family or children trends and bring them to certain producers ahead of the curve, while we can study the semantics within scripts and determine what will strike nerves (for better or worse) within certain demographics.

The role of culture in business is ever-expanding and critical if one wants to not just keep up, but leap ahead of the curve.

Hey there and my pleasure.

While the pandemic has certainly brought on new changes, its accelerated many existing ones.

According to an IBM’s Retail study, COVID-19 accelerated the shift away from physical stores to digital shopping by roughly five whole years. The same could be said for cloud adoption, online streaming and VOD, virtual education and video conferencing… just for starters.

The business takeaway here is, if you have an inkling the ground is changing beneath your feet, do not hesitate for a second to adapt. Disrupt yourself. Culture will only accelerate faster and many will be left behind (both businesses and people). Side note: one of my personal biggest woes of CV19 has been the senior population who are now even more disconnected from an already online world. (Business implication there…)

My favorite “tech-adjacent” memes are ones about Robinhood (the trading app) and the guys over at r/WallStreetBets. Things get dark.

I love this question.

I don’t know if more tech is an answer here. While there are apps which allow you to see Twitter feeds of different users to get out of your bubble, these feel like novelties. I don’t imagine anyone genuinely using these on a daily basis.

I truly think mindfulness and digital/media literacy are the solutions here. Obviously, it’s easier to consume what we want to see, and much harder to seek out things that we know we will likely disagree with. But overcoming that friction is key. Actively seek out opposing sides: Attempt to understand why anyone would actually think the Earth is flat. Follow people from the other party. Question your own status-quo. The downside to all of this is skepticism thought. I don’t think we want paranoia either. There’s a fine line to walk between accepting it all and questioning it all.

I feel this is a half answer, apologies, but it’s one worth digging deeper into because it’s so critical for our online future.