Saturday, April 15, 2006

Did memes build the Internet?

Every wonder if memes caused us to build the Internet so that we could spread them more efficiently? Here is People's Exhibit #1.

Uncle Sam wants your tattoo

Here's an interesting result of the "Get a tattoo" meme that continues to spread among young Americans. To meet recruitment goals, the U.S. Army is having to relax its rules regarding tattoos on its recruits.

Holy fire, holy keys and four-inch Easter nails

An annual religious event like Easter brings out the memeplexes around the world

In Greece, Orthodox Christians are fighting over the "holy fire."

In Jerusalem, Muslims bicker over who is more important: the family that controls the key to the Holy Sepucher, or the family who uses the key to open the door for Easter pilgrims.

In Rome, the pope leads Roman Catholics in the annual Good Friday procession past that major icon of the pagan Roman Empire, the Colosseum, to participate in the memetic ritual known as Twelve Stations of the Cross.

In the Philippines, the star of a Scottish reality TV show called "Crucify Me" backed out of taking part in the annual ritual of the Passion. He had agreed to allow Filipino Christians to drive four-inch nails through his hands and feet, and thus hang him upon a wooden cross.

The list goes on and on. What's interesting is that all of these rituals and artifacts live within the memeplex of "The Resurrection of Jesus Christ." Could any of these memes live outside the memeplex? Without Easter, would anyone allow himself to be nailed to cross? Travel to Rome to march in the streets behind a man carrying a large crucifix? Bicker over a candle or a key?

Each of these memes survives because it is part of a much larger, much more powerful memeplex. And yet each also contributes to the memeplex by giving the hosts a method for demonstrating (and thus endorsing) the memeplex in the objective Level 3 world. Prospects see the demonstration and at least a few are attracted to it. Next year, they will participate in the rituals, thus allowing these memes to live on and on, spreading both vertically and horizonally through the population.

This is the meme cycle at work.

Friday, April 14, 2006

'American Security' vs 'Muslim Security'

Today’s Wall Street Journal opinions page considers “The Meaning of Moussaoui and the lesson of the Flight 93 tape.” Within this brief article, we can clearly see the struggle between two of the great memeplexes of day, “American security” and "Muslim security.”

As much as we Americans may prefer to view the fight with Islamic terrorists as good vs. evil, in truth what we are watching is meme vs. meme. And the Islamists believe they are fighting as much for their place on Earth as American patriots believe we are fighting for ours.

Compare the WSJ’s viewpoint with this excerpt from the book “Imperial Hubris,” where an anonymous senior CIA official attempts to explain the ongoing struggle from the Islamic point of view.

In a nutshell, many Muslims (and not just the radicals and not just the Arabs) believe the United States is engaged in a long term plan to wipe out Islam, or at least to marginalize it. And they make a very good case.

This is not to excuse the Sept. 11 attacks. But if we are to survive, we must understand that the Muslims are not irrational. From a memetic point of view, they are fighting for the survival of their meme with the best weapons they have at hand.

One other point, this from Randall J. Larsen, director of the Institute for Homeland Security: We cannot defeat terrorism. We can only hope to contain it.

The "Muslim Security" memeplex will fight us to the death. Are we really ready to commit our time, blood and treasure to that end?

Thursday, April 13, 2006

When did tattoos become feminine?

Marketing spends far too much focusing on reaching “the influentials.” The truth is that humans will imitate whatever appeals to them, as long as their actions are not prohibited by their subjective worlds

The key to passing a meme is to manifest the meme in the objective world in a way that appeals to the subjective world. It may be impossible to tell from the outside whether a potential host will accept the meme.

After all, who would have thought 10 years ago that suburban moms would buy tattoos for their daughters as 16th birthday presents? Not that long ago, tattoos were the meme of sailors, soldiers and bikers. It was only when these moms saw the tattoos on other teenage girls in their own social strata that they set aside their Level 2 aversions and embraced the “let your daughter have a tattoo” meme.

Not only did they embrace the meme, they mutated it to “buy your daughter a tattoo.” Some even stepped up the meme by making the tattooing a mom/daughter bonding event, with each getting her own tattoo at the same sitting.

Other moms were unable to get beyond the Level 2 aversion to tattoos, but agreed to let their daughters wear temporary tattoos. Apparently, their aversion was not to the tattoo’s appearance, but rather to its permanence.

In any case, the tattoo is now considered a beauty mark, as much of the feminine as cosmetics.

But trends come and go. Memes mutate. What happens when the dominant meme becomes, "Get rid of the tattoo"?

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

How BlackBerry grew and grew through applied memetics

Consider the BlackBerry.

How much advertising has BlackBerry purchased? Virtually none. Instead, its maker created a cool design with a useful function. Then it seeded the little email communicator among its targets: lawyers, doctors, stockbrokers and other professionals who needed constant, portable, simple access to email.

Once a few began to use the Blackberry in the field, others saw their action and imitated it. The “Buy the Blackberry” meme spread like wildfire. Following the Law of Propagation, the meme replicated through the meme cycle.
  • Level 3 (objective) : Hosts saw their peers use the BlackBerry.
  • Level 2 (subjective) : “The BlackBerry is a highly useful tool, it looks very cool, it has the endorsement of my peers, there is prestige in having one and there are no social objections.”
  • Level 1 (memetic): “Buy the BlackBerry.”
Following the Law of Gravitation, the BlackBerry traveled the familiar path of all successful memes, the memetic ladder:
  • Source: The inventor creates and manufactures the BlackBerry.
  • Cluster: The inventor demonstrates the BlackBerry to the first hosts.
  • Movement: The first hosts pass on the meme to their peers.
  • Trend: The peers spread the meme exponentially.
  • Mainstream: The BlackBerry becomes a standard tool among professionals who work in a large group, such as a partnership or a corporation, where portable communication is essential.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

When is a crucifix a crucifix?

Take a look at the items to your right. Each one is considered a crucifix. Yet none is exactly like another.

Yes, they have similarities. Each is in the shape of a cross of the kind used in Roman crucifixions. Yes, each bears an image of the broken Jesus. (Yet note that the Jesus nailed to the center crucifix on the top row appears oddly ... triumphant.) Some have the sign reading "King of the Jews" above the Christ's head; others do not. Some are wood, some are metal, some are masonry. Some of the Christs are emaciated, others are powerful. Some heads tilt left, others tilt right.

And yet each is a crucifix, a crucial icon in the memeplex "Roman Catholic Church."

How can this be? Shouldn't the replication be exact?

First, the crucifix is an archtype, not a formula. It is subject to interpretation by the meme's new host.

Second, the crucifix is a heuristic, not an algorithm. The command "build a crucifix" provides a pattern to copy, not a recipe to duplicate. We see this all the time in our daily lives.

For example, what are these?

They are "keys," right? And yet do the "keys" above look like the "keys" on the right?

So when we are dealing with the meme, "Cut a key," we are dealing with a general heuristic that can be interpreted in many ways. However, when we are dealing with the meme, "Cut a key for a 1997 Ford F-150 with this specific VIN number," we are dealing with a specific algorithm that will produce a specific key:

Or maybe not ...

Is this a "key?"

Sunday, April 09, 2006

The power of the Green Jacket

This weekend, millions of TV viewers tuned in to CBS to watch 103 top players chase the greatest prize in pro golf.

It is the Green Jacket that is awarded annually to the winner of The Masters, the most prestigious of golf tournaments. What makes the event so prestigious?

It isn't the golf course; though historic, the course is hardly the best in golf. It isn't the prize money; other tournaments may far more to the winner.

Could it be ... the jacket?

The "Masters green" blazer is constructed at a small Ohio tailor, which has made the jacket for 33 years. Only members of the Augusta National Golf Club in Georgia, and Masters champions, get to wear the coveted green jackets.

The color is actually quite hideous, if distinctive. And yet the jacket itself provides a powerful meme within the memeplex known as "The Masters."

The blazer is an icon. It is also an artifact within the ritual known as "donning the Green Jacket," which provides the climax for the Masters each year.

There is no comparable symbol within golf. And that alone may explain why year after year the Masters outshines the U.S. Open, The Open Championship (British Open), and the PGA Championship as the PGA's top tourney.