Now I’m sitting in a “conversation” about Understanding Internet Memes. At this point, having had everyone in the room introduce themselves and describe why they’re interested in the session (BTW, almost everyone is a journalist.), we were given a definition by the Rocketboom session moderators. The definition acknowledges Richard Dawkins’ creation of the idea/word and its parallel with the “gene” inasmuch as the meme spreads like a gene. The focus of the definition is essentially on a lengthy list of popular Internet fads that are essentially viral ideas that break and then find explosive popularity through derivatives and mutations.
That’s the definition we’ll be working with. So be it. But as part of some work I’ve been doing to research a forthcoming book, I’ve dipped deeper into the concept. And now I discover that apparently I’ve submerged well below the level of the experts presenting. Not that where I’ve gone is more significant or valuable, but it does include the parallel to the gene that Dawkins also included. That is, the meme has history and an ancestry, like a gene. So, while it’s fascinating to discuss what makes a popular viral video popular and worthy of spreading (while others don’t), there is a more significant exploration that should or could be undertaken in wondering where this strain of meme came from.
Basically, there are no new genes. Sticking with the human species and its set of 24 double-helix chromosomes, there are essentially a large but fixed number of dominant and recessive genes that are combined in offspring that define what that little person will become physically. So it is with memes.
Let’s stick with stories. There are essentially about 9 archetypal stories such as the hero’s quest, the “fish out of water,” comedy, tragedy, etc. ALL stories that you encounter today are derivatives of these archetypes. One story meme that has been around forever is the flood story. It goes back to Ancient Sumeria and appears in its most well-known form as the story in Genesis about Noah. The meme finds its way into current movies, novels, and so forth. So the idea “gene” has worked its way through the generations from Sumer to The Book of Eli and The Day After Tomorrow.
We’re not having that discussion. What we are having is essentially an information virology lesson. At the very end of the session, Dawkins’ original parallels to the gene was dismissed in favour of a more practical approach to understanding the spread of ideas, etc. That is immenently practical for marketers and others who are trying to be successful and make money with this buzzword. All that said, it’s just a little superficial.