12 February 2006

Sunday Snowy Sunday

Definition and Origins of the Word "Meme"
After seeing the word across blogs web-wide, you've probably deduced your own definition for "meme." Where'd it come from? The evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins is largely credited with coining the term in his 1976 book The Selfish Gene. I quote from p. 192 of the 1989 edition:
But do we have to go to distant worlds to find other kinds of replicator and other, consequent, kinds of evolution? I think that a new kind of replicator has recently emerged on this very planet. It is staring us in the face. It is still in its infancy, still drifting clumsily about in its primeval soup, but already it is achieving evolutionary change at a rate that leaves the old gene panting far behind.

The new soup is the soup of human culture. We need a name for the new replicator, a noun that conveys the idea of a unit of cultural transmission, or a unit of imitation. 'Mimeme' comes from a suitable Greek root, but I want a monosyllable that sounds a bit like 'gene'. I hope my classicist friends will forgive me if I abbreviate mimeme to meme.* [points to endnote] If it is any consolation, it could alternatively be thought of as being related to 'memory', or to the French word même. It should be pronounced to rhyme with 'cream'.

Examples of memes are tunes, ideas, catch-phrases, clothes fashions, ways of making pots or of building arches. Just as genes propagate themselves in the gene pool by leaping from body to body via sperms or eggs, so memes propagate themselves in the meme pool by leading from brain to brain in a process which, in the broad sense, can be called imitation. ...
Actually, Dawkins may not have been the first to come up with (or name) this concept. For example, Wikipedia points to a German biologist Richard Semon who in 1904 published Die Mneme about similar concepts.

Okay, enough scientific rambling. On to...

Funny Clip from The Lonely Island
YouTube has more shorts from The Lonely Island, like "Fighting Neighbors" and "The Tangent." (Tip: click the "pause" button, let it load all the way, and then play.)

When Automated Weather Sites Reach Out for Human Contact
I used to use wunderground.com for weather reports, which are usually terse and matter-of-fact, like:

Rain. 70 degrees. 40 mph wind.
But for the last few days it's had a more emphatic, almost heartfelt,
Snow. Blowing snow. Snow may be heavy at times.
MySpace and My Hometown
As you have seen on the news, kids in high school are gravitating to MySpace (instead of, say, Blogger). It's customizable to the point of lunacy - you'll find flashing banners, interactive applets, movie and song clips, and hundreds of comments streaming down the page. Also, media outlets like CNN and Newsweek have reported that kids are putting themselves at risk by posting too much personal information, photos that really shouldn't go before the public, and information that enables stalking.

I know I'm stating the obvious, but as a 31 year-old I can look back over, say, 20 years of technical progress. In 1986 I was frequently logging into (text-only) "bulletin board systems", trading quips with other nerds with 1200 baud modems, adding to community-written science fiction tales, and snooping around to see what Apple II software was being provided by software pirates. However, this took a little - not a lot, a little - technical knowledge, and appealed only to the sciency math club types in the hallway.

Now we're in 2006; my young relatives, at age 8, surf the web to play online games. My sister-in-law sends text messages to friends while watching television. And the mainstream high schooler spews personal information into public view with the passion of the typical teenager with a phone stuck to his or her ear in the 1980s. I'll give you an example; last night I was curious if anyone I went to high school with decided to make a blog. It'd be fun to chat and also fun to hear what the kids today think of my favorite teachers of yesteryear. What'd I find? Well, I don't want to single out any one kid, so here's the MySpace page for the West Orange High School class of 2005. I bet that if you click on any of those students, you'll find enough streaming media that it'll nearly crash your computer.

I'm more than a little worried about this; I'll be a parent soon, and J-Fav and I need to add a new layer to the "don't talk to strangers" maxim. A whole "the Internet is public" thing. A whole, "yes, there are creepy people who will deduce who you are, where you live, and whether you'll be at the band concert tonight" realm of weirdos to be concerned about.

And now: time to shovel the snow!



Rob Barac said...


I'm a long time lurker and new commenter (I think).

I opened a spaces account and have had nothing but teenage girls asking me " 'sup " and inviting me to " hook up "

I've got an infant son and I cannot help but wonder if he's being put at risk by simply being on the web in photos and his blog.

G-Fav said...

Rob - Hey, coffee man! Who else can I rely on to teach me Australian slang?

Good to hear from you. By the time you read this I'll be in Houston again.


ps 'Sup!