Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Meme Machine

In the interests of (pseudo-)science, or simple blogosphere curioisty, read on...

What is the speed of meme? People write in general (typically truimphant) terms about how swiftly a single voice can travel from one side of the internet to the other and back again, but how often does that actually happen? Of those instances, how often is it organic?

Most memes, I'd wager, are only superficially organic: beginning small, they acquire minor prominence among low-traffic blogs before being picked up by a high-traffic one, from which many more low-traffic blogs snatch them. Contra blog-triumphal models of memetic bootstrapping, I believe most memes are—to borrow a term from Daniel Dennett's rebuttal of punctuated equilibrium—"skyhooked" into prominence by high-traffic blogs.

Here's what I need you to do:
1. Write a post linking to this one in which you explain the experiment. (All blogs count, be they TypePad, Blogger, MySpace, Facebook, &c.)
2. Ask your readers to do the same. Beg them. Relate sob stories about poor graduate students in desperate circumstances. Imply I'm one of them. (Do whatever you have to. If that fails, try whatever it takes.)
Ping Technorati.

Experiment from Acephalous, via CT.

I have my reservations about how scientific or reliable these results will be, given the obvious begging nature of the request. It seems rather like trying to gauge (spontaneous) charitable contributions by measuring donations to Comic Relief. But never mind...

Incidentally, I didn't really know what the term meme meant, but apparently it was coined by Dawkins and means "A cultural element or behavioural trait whose transmission and consequent persistence in a population, although occurring by non-genetic means (esp. imitation), is considered as analogous to the inheritance of a gene." (OED)

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At 3:11 pm, Blogger Nick said...

The problem with memes is that there is no precise scientific definition for them, unlike for genes. Furthermore, 'mimetics' doesn't tell us very much about how ideas spread: it just insists that they do spread, which is hardly a revelation. Calling some ideas 'viral' is a suggestive metaphor, but all it is is a metaphor. If anything, ideas spread in a more 'bacterial' fashion. So I struggle to see what explanative power mimetics is supposed to possess.


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