Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Screaming meemies

In 1976 evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins coined a term he used to describe what he saw as shorthand for a "...unit of cultural information". The term was meme. According to Dawkins,

Examples of memes are tunes, catch-phrases, clothes fashions, ways of making pots or of building arches.

Memes are supposed to be kind of like genes, only with an 'm' instead of a 'g' and act kind of like cultural building blocks, like genes act like the building blocks of pineapples and people. I'm not sure where the 'm' came from. I'd prefer 'b' or 'w', instead of the alphabetically neutral 'm'.

Making it 'm', however, did make it fit in neatly with an obscure alleged academic discipline named "memetics," popularized by Richard Brodie and Aaron Lynch, who at the time claimed never to have heard of Richard Dawkins. Talk about great minds. Memes are now big deals in memetics.

Mr. Brodie is a former Microsoft executive turned motivational speaker and professional poker player. Mr. Lynch worked on the Fermi lab PDP-11 project before moving into popular writing. The PDP-11 was an early, primitive computer.

Mr. Dawkins is most recently famous for his feature length film which documents him traveling to various countries where he seeks out religious believers, then explains to them how stupid they are.

You can see the difficulties beginning to rear their ugly little heads.

But, let's keep it real, OK? And simple. When you think about it, meme is so all-encompassing, it can be applied to anything, including itself: "The meem meem." You can't do that for the gene meme. Think about that for a second. Makes my head hurt.

Today, people arguing about something they don't know anything about, yet who want to demonstrate they've attended college or read an article in the Atlantic Monthly and therefore know best about everything in the known universe, frequently use the term meme trying to do just that.

For the rest of us, this is fortunate. It lets us know immediately the speaker using the word meme is an idiot we can safely ignore.

You can save a lot of time and aggravation knowing obscure little memes like this. Digg Stumble Upon Toolbar propeller Furl

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