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Wednesday, October 27, 2004

Word up

I must have missed the memo on "meme." For the better part of two years, I've been reading this word in various places across the blogosphere, and I've never really understood what it meant. I didn't even know how to pronounce it. (Turns out, it's "meem.")

Finally, last night, I tripped across a pretty nice article in The New York Times that fills us in. Somewhat. It's still a little vague, but a fuzzy picture is better than being in the dark, which is where I was before.

Comments (3)

actually a rather simple concept - check out


Think for example of that Vera Katz meme of yours.

An idea, that replicates from brains or retention systems, such as books, to other brains or retention systems.

As I understand "meme" in the context of Dawkins' use of the term, meme is to culture as genes are to biology. Each represents a kind of information that survives the individual organism.

Why do we wash our clothes, or cook our food, or believe that through discipline and hard work we can get ahead? It's hard to imagine that there are genes that direct us to do or believe these things, rather more likely that these habits or beliefs are tried and true lessons that are passed from one generation to the next. For all I know, ants, birds, otters and chimpanzees may very well pass similar kinds of information from adult to child so that it obtains a permanence.

I think language, myth and religion fit the meme concept, as well. In fact, in that light, Dawkins probably only deserves credit for introducing the subject to biology. Anthropologists like Claude Levi-Strauss and linguists like De Saussure earned their reputations by thoroughly exploring the role of language and myth in shaping society and individual behavior.

It's interesting to see how "meme" is being applied to the internet. There may be some loss of the power of the concept if the term is thrown around too loosely, but presumably there are some parallels between how the brain stores information electronically and how information is distributed around the internet. I can see how television, libraries, museums and now the internet play a big role in recording our society's idea of itself in ways that endure, to varying degrees, from generation to generation.

Memes don't exist. Tell your friends!

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