Thursday, September 16, 2004

Meme Proliferation. Pt I

Often times analogies create insights into processes that could not have been realized without the new vocabulary of the analogy. The analogy of idea-as-gene, meme, has proven very useful in studying how ideas start, survive and spread.

A meme starts when a new idea is created, whether by hybridization of multiple other memes or a singular recasting/mutation of an older concept is unimportant. That meme must then compete for resources and a niche. The resource that is most valuble for a meme is processing time in peoples's minds. The niche is a place among other memes in which the new meme is not in conflict/contradiction.

Once a meme has the resource of a person's attention, it will eventually die out unless it can gain other peoples's attentions. Memes therefore spread via human channels of communication: the spoken word, writing, television, and, most recently, the blogosphere. In fact, all of these examples and the minds that create and consume them, can be described in the analogy as an ecosystem. And, like organisms in an ecosystem, each meme must compete for attention with all other memes currently present.

Within ecosystems there are biomes, regions in which conditions are disimilar enough to create different survival criteria. Whereas genes have to compete in biomes such as forest, oceanic, arctic, etc., memes also have different regions of operation. At one end of the scale is Entertainment. In this arena, memes that provide the most intellectual or sensory fulfillment are selected. Currently, the memes "Jessica Simpson", "The Sopranos", and "Reality TV" are hot, while "Disco", "MC Hammer", and "Sit-Com" are either dead or not doing well. Some memes have found stable niches that allow for a long life, ie "Wayne Newton playing in Vegas". Others have managed to adapt along with a changing environment to become endemic: "Madonna".

At the other end of the spectrum is Science. Here, only ideas that can be logically deduced from previously established memes and/or new data can survive. When two ideas come into conflict, other memes, aka data or evidence, are brought in to discern which creates a more homogeneous whole. In some cases one idea, "Static Universe", is completely undone by data, "Celestial Objects Move Faster Away From the Earth in Direct Relation to Their Distance From the Earth", that support other memes, "Expanding Universe".

Another difference between Entertainment and Science memes is that Science memes are said to be discovered, while Entertainment memes have at least some intentional component to them. Gravity existed long before the meme "Gravity" existed, and "Gravity" is still changing as more information from experiments and new theories are developed. In entertainment, intentionaly cultivation of memes is possible and often desirable. Once "Nirvana" was discovered, it wasn't long until "Pearl Jam" was created. Also, once a meme is discredited/destroyed in the Science biome it is almost assuredly gone for good, while comebacks/reinfections are not uncommon in Entertainment.

In the next part of this post, I'll discuss memes in the Political biome.

1 comment:

Sean from DocintheBox said...

Maybe John Barnes world isn't to far away, who said memes that he's talking about didn't evolve? That catchy little jingle is the terminator of tomorrow?