Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Do some memes have a death wish?

More than one million people take part annually in the "Race for the Cure" events, sponsored by the Komen Foundation, worldwide. This month alone, races are set for Fort Worth, Indianapolis, Spokane and Tucson, among other U.S. cities.

Central to the very successful memeplex "Komen Foundation" is the meme "Cure breast cancer." The memeplex had driven its hosts to raise and invest more than $630 million in research to that end.

A new study suggests that the meme may be very close to getting its wish. And yet, if the meme succeeds, won't it in effect commit suicide? If breast cancer is cured, then the meme fades away by default.

What then happens to the other memes that have grafted onto the Komen Foundation memeplex?

The icons?

The rituals?

The artifacts?

What's clear is that a memeplex like the Komen Foundation thrives because it provides all three incentives for the host to spead the meme to others:

Economic: How will I gain if I spread this meme?
"I will cure my breast cancer" or "I will cure my friend's breast cancer".
Social: How will I improve my status with this meme?
"Others will admire my efforts to cure breast cancer."
Moral: How will I improve the world with this meme?
"The world will be a better place without breast cancer."

And yet, what happens to the memeplex is the central meme reaches its goal.

Likely, the same thing that happened to the "March of Dimes" memeplex when its original central meme, "Stamp out polio," succeeded in the 1950s. The central meme winked out, only to be replaced by a new central meme, "Prevent birth defects."


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