virus: Replication of Memes

Steve Upstill (
Thu, 01 Aug 1996 17:00:15 -0700

I sent the following message to Richard Brodie while
reading the Virus book, and he suggested I post it here.

It seems to me the interesting thing about a meme is its
ability make itself at home in a variety of different
heads, as opposed to its ability to modify the behavior of
its host to pass it on. For example, a meme that arrives at
the host via advertising is a good meme if it finds
acceptance in millions of hosts, independent of whether
those hosts ever pass it on to others.

On an analytic level, I would contend that we are host to
far more memes than could ever be expected to influence us
to pass them on. The key elements are 1) the meme's
self-containment sufficient to traverse info-vectors (which
has interesting structural implications, to be sure), and
2) its conformation with the cognitive structures of the
host allowing it to take root there.

Sure, one strategy for replication is to induce the host to
pass it on. But this is where memes differ from
"biological" virae: there ARE other media. I'm not
sure why you are emphasizing that particular facet of the
phenomenon. But then again, I'm only a quarter of the way
through the book.

Steve Upstill