COMPISSUES02- Meme Theory


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A presentation introducing students to the concept of Memetics and viral content online. Non-technical, and suitable for use in a 'soft skills' module.

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COMPISSUES02- Meme Theory

  1. 1. + Social Networks and the Theory of Memes Current Issues in Web Technology Michael Heron
  2. 2. + Introduction  One of the key things about ‘free’ software products like Facebook is their customer model.    You’re not the customer. You’re the product. In order to create self perpetuating virality, social networks must capture the desire of individuals to be consumers and producers of content.  Content is anything you put out there.  A like  A link  A status update
  3. 3. + Virality  Social networks have a vested interest in ensuring the ease of virality.   Facebook, Yahoo and Google all have ‘trend managers’.   The degree to which an idea ‘catches on’ amongst a population. Those who are responsible for keeping track of just what content is ‘catching fire’ Viral content is self perpetuating.    It infects new groups (along the lines we discussed last weeks). Those groups distribute it to groups farther afield. Technology diffusion model from last week relevant here.
  4. 4. + Propagation  Propagation follows two models.    Linear Exponential
  5. 5. + Propagation  Linear propagation provides:     Exponential propagation provides:     Steady market penetration Long term exposure Memetic potential only available towards the end of propagation. Very fast market penetration Quick ‘burn out’ Memetic potential available instantly. Memetic potential often expressed in follow-up ‘responses’.  
  6. 6. + Meme Theory  The idea of a meme was coined by Richard Dawkins in his 1976 book ‘The Selfish Gene’  In this book, he posits that certain kinds of ideas transfer themselves between the minds of other individuals.       Metaphors Speech Gestures Rituals Now… youtube videos. There is a field of scientific study around this now.  Memetic theory.
  7. 7. + Meme Theory  In this theory, ‘memes’ evolve through natural selection.      Memes must propagate or become extinct.    Variation Mutation Competition Inheritance Although ideas are rarely ever lost forever. ‘A meme is an idea that behaves like a virus – that moves through a population, taking hold in each person it infects’ – Malcolm Gladwell. Memes vary through their expressions.   Changes in style or phrasing or aesthetics Ideas are rarely a perfect copy.
  8. 8. + Meme Theory  Mutations of memes involve the introduction of new elements that may significantly (or not) alter the basic composition of the idea.  Ideas inherit from other ideas.   Ideas transmit themselves to other people.   Constitutional monarchy derives from absolute monarchy which derives from despotism.  To give a horrendously simplified example. The propagation of memes is based on the ‘infection ratio’ in the general population. Popular ideas are more memetic.
  9. 9. + Meme Theory  Memes also encounter ‘survival of the fittest’.  Bad ideas (we would hope) die out  Good ideas propagate.  Unfortunately, humans are not especially well wired to determine ‘good’ ideas.  The ‘fitness’ of an idea is based on several factors:   ‘Stickiness’ of the idea   Context in which it is encountered Receptiveness of individual minds. Bad ideas can propagate as easily as good ideas.
  10. 10. + Stickiness  Stickiness is the thing that gives ‘oomph’ to a meme.  It defines the impact on the people who encounter it – a sticky meme is one that gets stuck in your head.     Ideas that are sticky are ‘worth spreading’.   A catchy tune A particularly pithy one liner A nagging doubt They remain active in your mind, which increases the chances that you will mention them to others. It’s difficult to precisely enumerate what makes a meme sticky.
  11. 11. + Group Exercise  Working in groups of 3-4:  From memory:  List ten to fifteen significant ‘memes’ you have encountered as a group in the past year.    Make a list of the ones you have personally encountered well enough to recognise. From the internet:  Check to see how your experience matches ‘the internet’   They don’t have to be ‘internet memes’ is a useful database of memetic indicators. Report back to the rest of us.
  12. 12. + The Spreading of Memes
  13. 13. + How do Memes Spread  Dawkins provided a theory of ‘replicators’ to help define this.     Longevity  Memes don’t need to last forever in the mind of an individual.  They just need to last long enough to propagate. Fecundity  An idea must be transmitted to a certain minimum number of people to ensure viability. Fidelity  An idea must retain a certain amount of ‘truthiness’ in its replications for it to propagate as a measurable unit. In addition to this, we can add the importance of conditioning.
  14. 14. + Conditioning  Conditioning/Repetition is a powerful process for creating receptive mind-sets.   If something is repeated often enough, we recognise it when we see it.    Operant conditioning. ‘Brand awareness’ It takes many repetitions to build this kind of awareness.   It’s how advertising works, for the most part. This process of repetition is why it’s known as conditioning. Enough repetitions can instil a ‘I recognise that, so I will buy into it’ reflex in the mind.
  15. 15. + Trojan Horses  An important technique is to use a favourable connotation to deliver a ‘secret’ message.    Bundling a great song in an advertising campaign. Making a funny advert that makes people laugh. Certain things work to bypass many of our conscious defences:    Danger  Thus, the high-pitched hysterical tone in many 24-hour news channels. Sex  Thus, the pairing of sex with… well, pretty much anything. Music  Gets deep into our caveman/cavewoman brains.
  16. 16. + Trojan Horses  The most memetic ideas catch us at the beginning.     A good meme follows the same basic patterns as a good story.     A ‘Oh wow did you see that’ moment ‘What’s going to happen next’ moment It hooks you at the start It tells you something that stays with you It drives you to tell other people Stories are in fact one of the purest memetic forms.   Their power to convey messages is second to none. Even NASA use them for teaching purposes.
  17. 17. + Creating Virality  Viral ideas work within a ‘marketplace of ideas’.    Creating a viral is not a scientific process.   If it was, nobody would ever need to pay an advertiser ever again. It’s highly contextual.    People have limited attention. Survival of the fittest. Things will work in one society that won’t work in another. Certain kinds of ideas will work well together when similar ideas won’t. However, there are some basic steps that you can bear in mind.
  18. 18. + Creating Virality  Six Simple Principles of Viral Marketing:   Give away something valuable.   ‘Free’ is a word of incredible power. Provide effortless transfer.   Complicated messages are hard to convey, and hard to get people to understand. Scales easily from small to very large.  You need to be able to keep up with demand.  C.f. Slashdot effect, or Penny Arcade’s ‘wanged’
  19. 19. + Creating Virality  Exploits common motivations and behaviours.     Utilizes existing communication networks.   The desire to be cool.  Both Samsung and Apple try to do this. The need to ‘belong’  Brand loyalty Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs  There is no point pitching ‘aspiration’ to a group worrying for their jobs. Human networks as well as social networks. Takes advantage of others’ resources  Virality can propagate through news coverage as well as through social networks.
  20. 20. + Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs's_hierarchy_of_needs.png
  21. 21. + Class Exercise  Groups of 3-4 again.     Pick the first thing from one of your ‘recommended items’ lists from Amazon. Work together to find a way to ‘package it’  Danger  Music  Hierarchy of needs Create whatever kind of presentation you like.  A short video  A powerpoint  An advertising pitch. Be prepared to show the rest of the class!
  22. 22. + Why do I need to know this?  ‘Why is any of this relevant to me’ is a fair question.  We all live in an incredibly noisy world.  It’s very hard to get the message out now.  If you work for a large company, they will worry about getting people to enjoy the fruits of your labour.  If you don’t, you need to take a more holistic view.   Everyone has to be something of a salesperson. It is also ‘self defence’ against the power of harmful memetics.  Knowledge is power.
  23. 23. + Conclusion  Ideas can be thought of as propagating along the same lines as genetic material.  This is known as memetic theory.  Understanding how memes are packaged is an important part in knowing how to create them.  To create the conditions for a meme, we need something that is:     Sticky Highly transferable Transmitted in a receptive context. Virality is key to understanding how much of what happens in the computing world happens.