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Why Ideas Spread - Memes

Ideas don’t naturally disseminate themselves by themselves. They require some form of user to integrate them, understand them and spread them. This notion of ideas as a kind of “mind virus” that replicates from person to person is known as “Memetics,” the study of memes.

First coined by biologist Richard Dawkins in his 1976 book “The Selfish Gene,” a meme is most analogous to a gene and can best be described as a “cultural replicator;” an information pattern held in an individual's memory which is capable of being copied to another individual's memory. This includes anything that can be learned or remembered; ideas, knowledge, habits, beliefs, skills, images, etc. (Heylighen, unknown). In practical terms this extends to such things as fashions, cigarette smoking, body piercing, songs, belief in UFOs, religions, sexist jokes, inventions, democracy, and urban legends (Blackmore, 2000).

Dawkins subscribed that memes replicate and fight for dominance with other contesting memes as a means of promoting cultural survival (in Blackmore, 2000). For instance, a meme that shows me how to speak a language and communicate with others is going to be helpful in creating social interaction, as well as increasing my standing in society, whereas a meme that tells me that jumping off a cliff will allow the gods to let me fly will end in disaster, as well as end the spread of the meme (Grant, 1990). Therefore, a meme requires three elements to be successful.

As can already be seen from the previous discussions about “The Nature of Information” and "Internet Factors", these elements are custom made for success using the Internet.

“Meme transmission over the network has a much higher copying-fidelity than communication through image, sound or word. Digitalisation allows the transfer of information without loss... Fecundity too is greatly increased, since computers can produce thousands of copies of a message in very little time. Longevity, finally, becomes potentially larger, since information can be stored indefinitely on disks or in archives. Together, these three properties ensure that memes can replicate much more efficiently via the networks... On the net, an idea can appear virtually simultaneously in different parts of the world, and spread independently of the distance or proximity between senders and receivers.” (Heylighen, 1997)

 

 

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