Chinese whispers, Darth Vader and the meme thing

Posted by on May 11, 2009 in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

DarthVader(Medicom)_03 I still haven't got round to writing down why it is I don't feel comfortable with the meme idea so popular round these parts.

Part of my discomfort comes from the obsession it creates with 'the Thing' (the idea or behaviour you want to spread) and its qualities (stickiness etc) at the expense of the people that do the heavy lifting – ie. the spreading.

But before I call down the wrath of meme-freaks everywhere on my head, just consider this piece: misquoted movie lines (like misheard song lyrics). Surprising how easy it is to get ol' Darth wrong, isn't it?

From one point of view, the population who are passing these misquotes on is getting the quotes WRONG: the quotes are inaccurate, plain and simple. Certainly this is what most tracking studies will tell you.

From another, the people through whose hands/mouths the incorrect version is passing is actually doing something with the quote – making what it (collectively) seems to want it to be.

Which is what always happens with social transmission – inaccurate copying or 'random drift' as the geneticists call it.

So you'd better get used to it: what humans touch, they change…

You might as well design with this in mind.


  1. andy
    May 12, 2009

    Very well put.
    Although based on Dawkins’ original definition of a ‘meme’, the word still works for me (as well as something as clunky as a word can). Dawkins describes a meme as a cultural unit – or string of cultural units. As you say, random drift, or ‘mutation’ is a natural part of evolution. So if these cultural units need to be massaged into acceptance by the crowd to become evolutionarily stable then so be it.
    Wow, I managed to add almost nothing at all with half the number of words you used to be insightful πŸ˜‰

  2. david cushman
    May 13, 2009

    Nice chief – adaption is inevitable in (the clue is in the name) complex adaptive systems πŸ™‚