We use the word "meme" to describe "an idea, behavior, style, or usage that spreads from person to person within a culture." That's according to Merriam-Webster, and I would also point out that the French use the word "même" to mean "same." Of course, I would also point out that they eat snails over there.
If you spend any time at all on the internet, especially social sites, you see memes all the time. Some of them, such as photos of empty chairs saluting the time that Clint Eastwood got up to speak at a political convention and removed the final vestiges of doubt as to whether he had gone around the bend by talking to an empty chair, are short-lived.
Some of them carry seemingly infinite variations on a theme. America's ability to put words on a picture of a cat and send it to everyone's computer is boundless.
Those pass-arounds mentioned above - the sort of thing that we used to Xerox to mail around - are jokes, and provide something to talk about when people walk away from their cubicles and head to the office lunchroom in hopes that their lunch has not been ripped off yet. Nothing wrong with sharing them.
But there is the other kind, and something bothers me when I get that "I'm tired" essay, purported to be written by Bill Cosby, served up as if fresh. Just off the top of my head, I can think of Andy Rooney, Bill Gates and Morgan Freeman as other noteworthy people to whom these treatises are credited.
In the case of the "I'm Tired" causerie that people send around so as to say, "Look! Even Bill Cosby agrees with me!", Cosby himself says he doesn't agree with the ugly sentiments in the piece. That one in which a lighthouse tries and tries to get a ship to change its course: bogus.
A quick trip to the great Snopes.com website usually clears up any confusion. The people there are ahead of all these rumors and have already investigated them, so that people can find out whether or not that hilarious rumor about Facebook charging a monthly fee is true or not (it isn't, but you can send me the money just the same!)
What really is disturbing is not the way so many of us put credence in these things and share them right away with everyone we know, but this: somewhere in this wonderful world we live in, lonely people are sitting at keyboards right this minute, cribbing essays from smalltown newspapers and graduation speeches made by local Kiwanis club members, and putting them on the internet, claiming that "Ben Affleck said this!"
That's sad, is what that is.