The operational definition of memes offered by Blackmore is “that which is transfered through imitation”. The majority of examples reveal more complexity, and the presence of several different types of mediating factors – when it is true at all.
Let us look through examples and example the transfer mechanism of different types of memes.
1) Direct Imitation: Language is the easiest example here. When we first begin how to make sounds it is through mimicking the voices of others. There is strong neurological support for the idea that we are wired for this type of behavior. Other fun examples include dance moves and sports. Really any skill or technique that is practiced by humans directly can fall into this category.
2) Imitation by Request: The vast majority of memes cannot actually be directly copied. They require some sort of mediating factor. Take clothing for example. If I see someone wearing a particularly stylist shirt I cannot turn my shirt into that one. I cannot make an identical shirt myself unless I posess the requisite skills, and if it is a particular brand of shirt I cannot duplicate it even if i have the ability. I need a market to mediate my imitation. The same thing is true of most products, including furniture, houses, cars, beers, even services like haircuts. Few things in the modern world are things that we make or do ourselves. If we do not then we cannot copy them directly. Much of our meme transfer is market mediated.
Saying that memes are transfered by imitation is simply not enough. The medium of transfer in many cases can be more important. It also tells us something about the nature of the meme generator and the meme host. The most common type of meme transfer is from generator to hosts who cannot or do not generate. Look at religion, politics, music, and fashion. For the most part, the ideas that are generated as part of these meme plexes are generated by a select group of individuals, and these memes are then hosted (unchanged) by audiences.
The way that mutation occurs is by responding to aggregated shifts in popularity (number of hosts per idea) by meme generating channels. These are the trend setters, the gurus, the experts.
There is a subset of memes though that are transfered with higher mutation rates because of what has been called the “prosumers”. These are consumers who have the ability to produce – they are meme hosts that can also redistribute memes. We see examples of these mostly in the internet space. Viral videos of image macros are common examples because anybody with a computer and an internet connection can view and host the idea in their mind as well as modify and repost to an equally large audience.
This idea needs much more clarification, but I hope the examples here were sufficient to show that imitation is not the true form of meme transfer. There is an additional step. That step is forum driven, it is market driven. This mediation step is where all the action happens, and where all the money is made.