How Internet Folklore Works

Newfangled Folklore

For many people, the word "folklore" comes loaded with dusty, old baggage. They immediately think folklore refers to fairy tales, mythological creatures, fables, proverbs or any sort of story in which unicorns or witches might make an appearance.

But as we've pointed out already, folklore is just the stories of a group that shares at least one thing in common. That's it, really.

There's also a perception that in today's revved-up Internet age, folklore is a folksy, antiquated term that has little bearing on our current society. That it's diluted and made meaningless in a world dominated by digital devices of all kinds.

The reality is that technology isn't wrecking folklore. Instead, it's enriching it, according to the man many people recognize as the father of folklore studies. The late Alan Dundes, who taught about folklore at the University of California, Berkeley, wrote that fears of technology killing off folklore are vastly overblown.

Dundes indicated that technologies such as phones, radios and computers have accelerated the spread of folklore in amazing ways. In past generations, stories spread in days, weeks or months. Now, thanks to the power of the Internet, those same tales spread like digital wildfire.

There's more to the tango between technology and folklore than simply faster transmission. Before his death in 2005, Dundes said the folklore of computers would become a defining feature of modern folklore. He was dead on. Computers, smartphones and the Internet are the basis for countless subcultures. On the next page you'll see how those subcultures thrive in a digitized world.