Quiz 3: Memes as Organic Information

by mmcgrat4

1. According to Richard Dawkins, ideas contain some of the properties of biological organisms. Some of these ideas include evolution, growth, communication, replication, and adaptation. In other words, an idea or meme can “take on a life of its own” once it had been created, and can change as it is transmitted from person to person. I believe this is a very cool way of viewing memes, especially given the increased communication provided by the internet. When ideas are constantly transmitted between so many people, change occurs quickly and noticeably, emphasizing the “organic” traits described by Dawkins. On sites where memes are regularly distributed and used to exchange information, it is obvious how an unassuming picture can be posted, turned into a meme with distinct unwritten rules, and seen by thousands of people, all in a matter of hours. For example, on reddit.com today, this image was posted 12 hours ago: http://i.imgur.com/r0LaiUh.jpg. Then 8 hours ago, the image was transformed into a meme and posted: http://www.quickmeme.com/meme/3tb05z/. Then 6 hours ago came this one: http://i.imgur.com/gnPNwGa.jpg. This is a perfect example of Richard Dawkin’s ideas on memes in human society. An idea is created, and then shared. It evolves into a meme format, adapting to its online environment, and shared again. This one image creates spin-off memes that follow the same unwritten rules as the first, the picture of the “sarcastic dog” with a dog-related pun matching the unenthused facial expression of the husky. By thinking of ideas and memes in this way, the transformation of ideas can be specifically broken-apart and studied.

2. This quote is taken from the very end of the Gleick’s article, and is used in a discussion about the existence of ideas outside of the mind, in a sort of “infosphere”. James argues that ideas have existence within themselves, and humans are simply the only ones who can see and interact with these ideas. He also shows that we cannot control the spread and evolution of ideas, even within out own mind. Our mind is just a vessel to contain and sustain ideas, which act as a sort of parasite inside of us. If you hear a song on the radio, it becomes part of you, residing inside your head. You may not like the song, you may want to forget you ever heard it, but this is outside your power. Once an idea has taken root, it cannot be destroyed easily, and when you least expect or desire its attention, that song you once heard on the radio may come back to the forefront of your consciousness. In this way, it is easy to see what Gleick means by a master/slave dynamic, and how we really can’t control how ideas spread and change.

3. The “Actual Advice Mallard” and “Malicious Advice Mallard” are two example of famous internet memes. “Actual Advice Mallard” was first, and it is a picture of a green mallard that is used to convey good advice to people who read the meme, such as the USB tape example on the quiz page. “Malicious Advice Mallard” on the other hand, is a meme that was created soon after “Actual Advice Mallard” first presented itself, and is the same mallard picture colored red, which gives horrible advice such as microwaving your pet. This meme is a another great example of how the concepts discussed in Gleick are relevant to information in today’s society. Similarly to the husky example in 1, the meme was first thought-up and spread through the internet in meme form. This shows adaptation of the meme to its environment (the internet). From there, another person saw the meme and thought of a sarcastic parody that could be created with “Malicious Advice Mallard.” This is an example of idea evolution. The “Malicious Advice Mallard” only makes sense if you know about and understand “Actual Advice Mallard,” which only makes sense if you understand the workings of internet memes. These ideas have parents and children and grow and spread just like the organisms discussed by Dawkins.

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