When was the last time someone told you a joke? I mean told, not emailed or Tweeted, texted or linked. It struck me the other day – it’s been ages. And it struck me because someone did tell me a joke – prefacing the gag with “Hey, I got this on email the other day, did you hear about…”
It’s not that we’ve all lost our narrative skills so much as we have adapted them to new media. Few of us actually invent the jokes we tell (in fact, I remember one interesting science fiction story that postulated jokes were made up by aliens because nobody actually knows someone who has made up a joke), we just pass them on. We might, if we fancy ourselves as a raconteur, embellish the gag and ‘make it our own’, but we are just passing on something that amuses us and that we think will amuse others, thereby making us more popular.
These days we do the same online. We send silly LOLcat pictures to our friends (or enemies, depending where you stand on the Great LOLcat Debate), videos of people falling off skateboards or links to brilliant online phenomena such as www.sadtrombone.com. When popstars die, the jokes fly around from mobile to mobile – perhaps interesting to anthropologists, Twitter didn’t reverberate with sick Michael Jackson jokes, they remained a private gag shared by text: a guilty pleasure, then.
In fact, we’ve become adept at using a number of platforms to share different types of content with each other – Twitter for links, Facebook for socialising, Youtube for video and so on. We’re sharing items of cultural information – Memes, if you want to be formal – in different ways, but for essentially the same reasons. We seek popularity and approval, attention and a role in our defined communities by sharing things of interest and amusement with each other.
Our motivations and our fundamental behaviours are the same. It’s just that we’re finding new mediums of expression. And while I am excited by that, I have to be honest and say that I do miss actually having jokes told to me.