Re: virus: Do memes exist?

Tim Rhodes (
Fri, 19 Sep 1997 13:56:37 -0700 (PDT)

On Wed, 17 Sep 1997, Wade T.Smith wrote:

> >Now, how do we gather data about memes?
> My question too, actually....

Wade, I was thinking about your fruit flies the other day (sorry, I can't
recall the Latin name at the moment). The reason the fruit flies are used
for genetic/evolutionary research is because their lifespans are so short
and they reproduce fast enough to see a genetic shift in a couple weeks
rather than a couple thousand years (as with humans). I don't think potty
training has the speedy transmission time necessary to make it the memetic
equivalent. So what does?

It would have to be a media or cultural institution in which memes evolve
at an accelerated rate. One in which the lines of transmission can be
followed in weeks rather than decades. Do we have such a medium? I think
so. I think your using it right now.

The Kurt Vonnegut/Sunscreen message showed that in the course of a couple
weeks a good meme can spread across the entire Internet (within a few days
of receiving it everyone I met that had e-mail had also seen a copy) and
bloom into the public consciousness (a week later there was story about it
on The News Hour). The rate of transmission and adaption on electronic
mail seems to fit the bill on this count. Tracking a message or meme
seems to be the only hurtle to jump, and not too high a one at all, I

A critic may say that although this approach might yield fruit (and flies
to go with it), it could not prove the existence of memes or their
properties in nature, only on e-mail. Even so, understanding the movement
of memes on the Internet seems like a worthy enough goal on its own right.

So, about that hurtle...?

-Prof. Tim