Networks are the infrastructure for the transmission of information and ideas. A meme is what packages the ideas and information that is being sent. Coined by Richard Dawkins, a meme derives from the term ‘gene’ (the information carrier within biological organisms) and the Greek word ‘mimetismos’ (meaning something imitated). Therefore a meme is an informational carrier that operates through mimetic behaviour.
A meme is often seen as one of the primary ways by which culture is shared and reproduced. Through our communicative abilities as humans, our societies have developed eclectic and complex cultures through the utilisation of memes. Ideas, beliefs and acquired knowledge is past down the generational ladder through memes and these created a means by which to share collective knowledge and collaborate. Matt Ridley argues that in our modern world, there are very few things that any one person can make from scratch. To create a book, one would need not just knowledge of how to type, edit and design, but also how to create paper, build a printer and generate electricity to power the printer. The systems of knowledge that culminate in the creation of a book stretch far and wide. How many people in the world do you think can melt down iron ore, forge an axe, fell down tress, design and build the transistors needed in digital printer chips then extract oil from the earth to create ink? Probably no one…
Memes have given us the ability to share information and create systems of knowledge sharing. We rely daily on a vast number of different knowledge pools in order to function and these knowledge pools are the result of mimetic behaviour. We start employing the use of memes as soon as we are born, imitating language and basic skills to ensure our survival. As we grow our use of memes expands and becomes more complex as we use entire sets of existing knowledge in school and university. Almost everything we do and all the actions we take exist as a form of meme and even the most radical shifts in behaviour have to rely on our use of memes initially so that we have sufficiently prepared ourselves for a step into new territory.
In 1783 when Frenchman, Louis-Sébastien Lenormand made the first recorded public jump with his prototype parachute strapped tightly to his back, his use of mimetic behaviour was integral to his success. A reliance on a huge amount of previously created collective knowledge packaged in thousands of memes ensured a radically new experiment turned out a success. The acquired mimetic knowledge of gravity, material and physics were utilised in a single experiment.
How many memes do you use on an average day?