“What colour is the dress?”. During February of 2015, ‘The Dress’ went viral. If anyone mentioned ‘The Dress’, everyone on social media knew exactly what was being alluded to. Before the dissection of this meme, I would like to point out the significance of it; as it is one of the first memes that played a different role in the meme culture. ‘The Dress’ is a meme of great proportions, because of the role it played in creating dissonance, sparking debate and provoking scientific understandings.
Before ‘The Dress’ became a meme, Cecilia Bleasdale planned on wearing it to a wedding; taking a picture of it to send to her daughter. After disagreements over the perceived colour of the dress in the photograph, the bride posted the image Facebook, and her friends also disagreed over the colour; some saw it as white with gold lace, while others saw it as blue with black lace. A couple days later, it was posted on Tumblr and instantaneously became viral. Tumblr’s director of data, Tom Christ, said at its peak the page was getting 14,000 views a second (or 840,000 views per minute), well over the normal rates for content on the site. By later that night, the number of total notes had increased tenfold. On Twitter, people created hashtags, #whiteandgold, #blueandblack and #dressgate to further promote the debate. At one point, the hashtag #TheDress had 11,000 tweets coming in per minute.
BuzzFeed conducted a poll asking readers to vote on their colours of choice, and within 10 hours they received 1.8 millions votes with 72% voting white and gold. The simple fact that the true dress colour was black and blue, but majority of social media users saw white and gold, is what caused the uproar of intriguing questions and debate.
The reason why ‘The Dress’ was trending and viral instantly, is because humans love to debate. Drama and controversy are innate human characteristics that allow us to play up our individuality and represent ourselves. Most other memes don’t start off with debate and controversy, and instead stem from some form of entertainment. The sole reason “the” dress was instantaneously viral was due to how everyone wanted to, and could, chime in with their own opinions. It’s very rare we find something to debate about that does not stem from political or external factors; thus, the simple, biologically influenced debate could cause no harm. Instead, it created opportunities for people to learn about the subtle differences that arise in humanity’s biological system.
The scientific explanation refers to the way our brains interpret the time of day and the environment of the object being observed. “Human beings evolved to see in daylight, but daylight changes color. That chromatic axis varies from the pinkish red of dawn, up through the blue-white of noontime, and then back down to reddish twilight.
“What’s happening here is your visual system is looking at this thing, and you’re trying to discount the chromatic bias of the daylight axis,” says Bevil Conway, a neuroscientist who studies color and vision at Wellesley College,” (Wired).
So, it’s likely due to some kind of colour constancy illusion, where some people are perceiving the context to be something like “lit by blueish daylight” and others are perceiving it to be something like “under yellow department store lights.” In the former case, your brain will try and get the objective colour by subtracting out the blue as a shadow, and in the latter case it will do the same thing by subtracting out the yellow as a reflection.
As such, ‘The Dress’ is a meme that can go down in history as one that sparked interesting discussions, peaceful debate and capability of social media.