Impact Itself Becomes a Meme
June 30, 2013

Impact Itself Becomes a Meme

We all love – or hate – those captioned photos that endlessly get forwarded and shared across social networks and the web. Syracuse University professor Anthony Rotolo has identified Impact as the font that gets those memes noticed, CNN reports. But is it a meme itself that people choose Impact as the font for their memes?

The definition of a meme according to Wikipedia is “an idea, behavior, or style that spreads from person to person within a culture.” Sometimes it’s risky to use Wikipedia as a reference, but the crowd sourced behavior that leads people to post on Wikipedia is itself a type of meme, so please give me this.

By the definition of a meme, it is possible that the use of Impact in memes is a behavior or style that is used from person to person, and therefore is itself a meme of its own.

The likely reason Impact was originally used for memes was likely convenience, Rotolo told CNN. The font was one of just a few fonts included in the early days of Microsoft Word. “The big, bold font people had, by default, in their Windows computers,” Rotolo said.

“Given the dominance of Windows systems and the freeware Microsoft included — MS Paint and the like — it was a typeface shared by millions of Windows users at a time Windows had more than 90 percent of the PC market,” CNN reporter Todd Leopold said.

There has been a distinct progression to the current look of those meme images. Richard “Lowtax” Kyanka, founder of the humor site and the person who coined the term “image macro,” noted the progression.

“Originally, people who just post images and then, in the forums, type the text beneath it (usually because they didn’t have Photoshop). After more and more people started obtaining Photoshop is when the image macros really began,” Kyanka was quoted saying, in the CNN article.

Over the years image macros, or memes, have infiltrated the web. A quick glance at my Facebook feed and I can quickly find a few memes being shared. And while a few other styles have emerged, many of these memes use the Impact font in white with a black outline.

In addition to convenience, the font actually works. White lettering with a black outline is visible on virtually every image. It’s noticeable. And with the growing use of mobile with people using smartphones and tablets to view their feed, it’s easily readable on those small screens. So the use of the Impact that was born out of convenience, continued to be used out of routine, and remains the more noticeable of fonts out of legibility.

While there is some practicality packed in there, I still argue that the use of Impact on image macros is in itself a meme. If Times New Roman had been used originally, then that’s the font we’d see on images today. But it was Impact that was used and therefore continues to be used out of learned behavior. By example, the font has become the meme of memes.

Image Credit: Lora liu / Shutterstock / redOrbit

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