WARSAW, Poland — The memorial museum at Auschwitz has launched a Facebook page, hoping that the popular social networking site will help it reach young people around the globe and engage them in discussions about the former Nazi death camp and the Holocaust. The site, which opened earlier this week, already has more than 1,800 “fans” who have subscribed, with the number growing by the hour – some 500 signed up Thursday morning alone. Many have left messages in English, Hebrew and Polish, the majority expressing the sentiment: “Never again.”
Maybe it looks weird to have a concentration camp listed right next to a photo of your old college roommate licking salt of some guys’s bare chest in Mazatlan on your Friends list, but we need to accept the awesomeness that the Auschwitz museums directors (as well as the administrators of the Simon Wiesenthal Foundation and other Holocaust memorials) realize the power and potential of social networking as a means to meme.
Defined as “a postulated unit or element of cultural ideas, symbols or practices, transmitted from one mind to another through speech, gestures, rituals, or other imitable phenomena,” I first heard the term “meme” waaaay back in the mid-90s when I interviewed genius/writer Douglas Rushkoff. This was when the Internet was basically email and crappy three link Web sites, and this guy was talking about how information was quickly going to become analogous to genetic material, replicating and spreading throughout culture and responding to selective forces. I didn’t really get it until the phrase “viral” started applying to videos of crazy breakdancing moves and lonely girls.
It took a few more years, but now units of information — whether those units contain hate propaganda or a video of a giggling baby — have found the perfect “imitable phenomenon” in the instantaneous sharing of social networking (Facebook and Twitter and YouTube whatever other new platforms the amazogeeks have in store for us.) As absurd as the Facebooking of the Holocaust seems, it is necessary — the very survival of the information depends on it. So go ahead, “friend” Auschwitz, subscribe to Anne’s YouTube Channel, follow the Simon Wiesethal Center’s tweets.
We live in a collective brain where only the strongest memes survive, and if future generations are to know the truth about the past, history had best stay two or three toes ahead of the present.
And it should probably consider getting an iPhone.