The widespread use of the internet has reached the point where it has a massive cultural influence. It has the power to give almost anyone or anything their 15 minutes of fame, and many an unknown or obscure thing becomes popular through its rapid proliferation on the internet. These internet phenomena are also referred to as internet memes, and memes are something that almost anyone who has used the internet has experienced.
The most common way these internet memes are spread is through mass forwarded email. Almost everyone has opened their inbox one day to discover a mass email from a friend with a subject like "check this out" and usually pointing to a link. Sometimes, these memes cross over into popular culture itself.
An example of the way these phenomena and memes can become widespread is the example of the 'star wars kid.' The star wars kid was an internet meme that spread extremely rapidly. It was a video a kid made of himself reenacting star wars fighting moves. Like many internet memes, this started as a personal video that somehow leaked to the internet and then spread rapidly because of its humor. It really was difficult not to laugh and the kid's gusto as he waved his fake light saber around.
The star wars kid, however, truly became one of the most famous internet memes because is stepped out of the internet and crossed over into popular culture itself. Almost every person, especially young people, has seen the video or at least knows of it. Knowledge of it was so widespread that network television shows like Arrested Development felt comfortable paying homage to it (in an episode where the main character's son re-enacts the star wars kid scene on a video that accidentally gets played in front of his entire school.) Internet memes are interesting precisely because of how quickly they can spread, also of interest is that most internet memes disappear form popular consciousness as quickly as they enter it.
Another good example of the power of internet memes was Jon Stewart's raging interview with Carson Tucker on CNN's crossfire. Hours after the interview aired it was being spread widely on the internet, and most of the people who eventually saw the interview didn't watch it originally on CNN, but rather were pointed to links where the footage was streamed. Like most internet memes, it didn't take long before what seemed like everyone in the world has seen the interview and it become referenced in major publications like Time Magazine.
In many ways, internet memes mirror how the internet itself operates: they spread and disappear extremely quickly. The interest provides access to such a vast amount of information that almost any interest can be instantly pursued, and it creates a certain kind of attention deficit disorder in the culture as a whole. Many internet memes spread quickly, but then there always something else to look at on the internet, and the public quickly loses interest. In remains undeniable, however, that some memes because so popular they enter the public consciousness as a whole, and without a doubt this will continue in the future.