September 26, 2005

Meme strangeness

Mat suggested the other day that I hate memes. But he's only half-right; I hate rubbish memes, but I quite like good ones. This is obviously just a feeble attempt at self-justification via adjectives, but my point (and I do have one) is this: it's perfectly possible in principle to construct a meme which would cause the people who picked it up and wrote about it to write something interesting. As a simple example, consider this:-

Tell me about the best day of your life.

The difference between a good meme and a rubbish meme is the difference between following a recipe to cook your dinner or buying a microwave ready meal. Rubbish memes are those which remove any need for intellectual effort or creativity, and produce a lot of identi-kit one or two word answers which reveal nothing significant of the author and in many cases are simple arbitrary choices. What possible value can there be in knowing whether someone prefers chocolate or vanilla, or – a particular bewilderment of mine – how many gigabytes of music they have on their hard disk? Does more gigabytes imply a better, more interesting or more intelligent person? Does it imply anything at all?

The puzzle really is why the majority of memes seem to fall into the "rubbish" category (as I'm defining it). Given that good memes are simpler, easier to devise and shorter, why do so many long lists of pointless questions make the rounds? I genuinely have no idea.


- 4 comments by 2 or more people Not publicly viewable

  1. Chris May

    Given that good memes are simpler, easier to devise and shorter, why do so many long lists of pointless questions make the rounds?

    Because people are, by and large, too lazy. In order to succeed, it's necessary that a meme be not only easy to devise, but easy to spread. So, whilst I and my artless acomplices might well devote 0.2 seconds of brain-power to 'what lightbulb am I' (ans: a 20w pearl), we're not going to slave for half an hour to craft a worthwhile 200 words on the best day of our lives.

    Given their survival-of-the-fittest nature, a meme which only one or two people can be bothered to participate in, however worthy, is not going to be a success.

    A related interesting question is why people think it's worth spending the 0.2 seconds of brainpower to fill out quizilla's latest offering at all. Does it have some personal value, or do they believe that someone else cares?

    26 Sep 2005, 23:28

  2. it's perfectly possible in principle to construct a meme

    Isn't the whole point about memes that you can't construct them, but rather that they construct you?

    26 Sep 2005, 23:35

  3. So what was the best day of your life?

    27 Sep 2005, 00:27

  4. in soviet russia memes construct you.

    27 Sep 2005, 02:41


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