Blogging 203 – Informational Virology and Introduction to Memetics


Life exists in more than just the mechanical – it exists as information as well. History is important as well as memories; not only these things constitute the sum of our existence as a civilization and as each individuals but it is a thing unto itself. People who shares your memory lives on in your memory when they pass away in a very sensible way. Generations after generations may have come and past but they leave their fingerprint on everything they’ve touched for the next generation. Indeed, humans live to express, to communicate with the world and each other. It is an innate desire to produce something original and imaginative. The same fundamental force of nature applies to writing. It’s one of the primary way to express, and people have done it for millennia. It’s important to realize that the moment you put your idea into words and wrote those words down, it is just the first step to breathing life into them. In today’s mass-media-saturated world, it is easier than ever to breath life into ideas. Take William Hung for instance…

But I’m jumping the gun. If you’re familiar with this train of thought you should know what I meant. Ideas live, good or bad. How it lives and how long it lives are other kinds of questions. Below, we’re going to focus on how it lives, through the study of memes, trolling, and the meaning of…meaning. How do these things help a blog is up to you to apply them. Hopefully I’ll have some simple examples to show you.

Memes. What’s so fascinating about the modern use of the internet and the World Wide Web is the proliferation of memes. I think we can trace them back in the days when most people use the internet for email and usenet. IRC had a big hand at growing some of the key memes we still see today, such as l33t-speak and other memes that exists in form. Email and usenet memes tend to exist in the substantive, OTOH, as chain letters, things you email your friends because it’s a funny read, or even simple pyramid schemes.

That’s not to say, though, that meme didn’t exist or proliferated prior to the internet. What is special, however, is the internet’s ability to connect people not by geographical proximity but by thought proximity. When you look up something on the internet, odds are you are also thinking about it. Perhaps you are even interested in whatever you’re looking up–news, sports, a TV show, whatever. Odds are the funny email that got forwarded to you was sent by someone who thought you would apperciate it, or because you’re on a mailing list regarding something you are obviously interested enough to sign up with in the first place.

Memes, in short, are mind viruses. It’s a bit of a stretch to call them viruses, when in reality they are unitary ideas existing sort of like a virus–they sit just like every other idea on the text of a website. But when an “infected” person reads it, it triggers something which evokes this (relatively uniform and consistent) idea. When two people infected with the same meme communicate this trigger, they both will relive the meme. Furthermore, a meme by nature is replicative. Ideas by nature is diffusive and grows from person to person. A real meme, however, exists not just within the medium of communication (say, a sentence), but it becomes, in some ways, the medium itself (such as an allusion). Someone who doesn’t understand the meme, when confronted with a meme trigger, would ask for clarification and explanation, and the meme is passed on.

Memetics (the study of memes) is a relatively controversial and new area of study. For the most part academics look at it through the parallel of memes as organisms to microevolutionary mechanisms for biological organisms, but we don’t really need to go there. For our purpose we need to simply recognize that ideas that share much similarities tend to be accepted by people who already share other ideas that are similar (see memeplexes), and some memetic traits makes them more or less acceptable by other people, as well as changes the likelihood of replication of the meme both in terms of how fast it spreads and how long it’ll stay with us.

In detail, even if you and I are inundated by information everyday, only the ones we find interesting we end up remember, and fewer still are the ones we tell others about, or use in our writing. Schools and education is remarkable in that it innoculates us with a set of fundamental memes, from the ground up. However outside of that, and any self-learning that you do, not much will stick. What make these memes stick? What makes them worth propagating? How do different people measure this calculus in their heads?

Understanding memes is just one way to look at this age-old question, but understanding this framework yields some interesting answer to the same age-old question. We now turn to some real applications: Just what makes a good idea viable idea? Or in our application, how should we editorialize in the meta?

Trolling is just one of the many ways people use to pitch their ideas. However, a troll’s primary distinction is to rile up a reaction, not so much to pitch an idea. The subtle troll thus is one who shapes a meme through creating that allergic response a normal person has against trolling. It’s partly why Rush Limbaugh or Jack Thompson get their minutes of fame. More importantly let’s see how a memetic framework explains the power of trolls.

There are several ways why trolling is a powerful way to send out your message in a nutshell. Crafty writers all do this when they want your attention (the first and foremost element of a good blog is one that people pay attention to). It’s an easy way to take a carefully constructed counterargument or lateral attack and make it entertaining and effectively communicated (both are helpful to make your ideas interesting and easy to understand). An emotional response is also highly memorable (for a lasting meme) and it tends to get people talking about it (fast replication).

On the other hand trolling is only best in moderation. Excessiveness has its place but generally it only works if you are already building a memeplex (ie. preaching to the converted) or expressing it for its own sake (artistic). Otherwise it is likely to be not taken seriously (people will forget it over time) and it gives other competing memes more leverage over it (basically, makes your idea much less persuasive). Another way to see how trolling works is in a Marketplace of Ideas framework: the way you market your idea (trolling) should be tailored to who you are selling it to. You can make more people buy a less worthy idea by marketing it better, than a more worthy idea; and alternatively you can market wrongly and cause the same effect, as well.

One of the important lessons about trolling is knowing your audience. Anyone who is an experienced writer can tell you that. It makes all kinds of sense. Don’t troll if your readers are looking for affirmation. Do troll if your readers are looking to hone their edges. Make your memes meaningful and on the same wavelength as who you want it to click with.

With that we’re coming back to the heart of it–meaning. To people who are looking at simple means-ends communication (for example, “how to fix my computer”), that is easy stuff. But for people looking for more, it becomes an increasingly complex if impossible task to give them something really meaningful in such a package that they not only understand it, but apperciate it. Education is valuable to society because it provides a format to obtain meaning to the questions people have. Religion and culture are valuable to society because it gives meaning to asking those questions. Friends and families are valuable because they help you answer those questions.

But don’t get me wrong. Meaning is optional. An evolutionary perspective would say that a meme that survives best is a meme that makes the person who it inhabits lives and teaches the best. In that way memes that relates to happiness, health, and relationships easily are the most successful and popular memes. Anime bloggers stand zero chance.

But do they? Medical schools, for example, teach all kinds of information that only highly educated and qualified individuals receive, and these doctors practice those information for people’s better survival and physical well-being. However very few people, relatively, knows any detail about doing a hysterectomy (the 2nd most common surgery for women in the US). Many more knows who William Hung is. Why? Is William Hung more meaningful? Not by any means.

However the fact remains that knowing how to do surgery is something droves of intelligent people would toil over for years (in med school and residency) in order to be able to actually practice it. In that sense, these med students and residents are asking a different question than those who knows about William Hung. Is logetivity and physical well-being more important? In the long run, no, obviously. But in the short run, it is fairly irrelevant.

In that sense, a successful blogger answers the right question. The answer is meaningful only because the question makes sense. I can talk about how wonderful Jesus is all day long, but it means little to someone else; however if someone ask me about Jesus I can answer their question and there is some meaningful communication going on. In other words, the blog needs to connect with its reader on a much more fundamental level before a meme can successfully be transmitted. Remember the very beginning of this dissertation? The internet is a powerful tool in this regard precisely because it allows people who are already in the ballpark to look for other fans in the same. People who stumble on your site are likely already asking the same questions you are asking. Take advantage of that.

At the end of the day, looking at memetics tell us that sound writing advices from ages past are likely to last simply because they work empirically, but a theoretical confirmation helps us apply these techniques better. Importance of network, especially, is highlighted by looking how memetics affect your audience base. It seems that when it comes to blogging, word-of-mouth or comment-linking seems to be the better form of dissemination of memes rather than, say, Google. In the ever differentiation of blogs how we ask ourselves and how we ask of our reader becomes the key in defining a blog being what it is, as an editorial ultimately asks questions. Trust your readers, and they’ll likely to trust you back if you have something to offer everyone.

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