memetic anthropology

It’s time to clarify the link between the study of memes on an individual level and how it links to the behavior of groups. This provides a new dimension of examination which, is not just the “stickiness” of memes as we have discussed before, not the “evangelism” or spreading of the memes, but the tendency for memes to gravitates towards each-other. What’s exciting is how this happens and how context can impact this force.

Let’s go to the trusty thought experiment examples.

Memes can be translated to “logical groups” but not necessarily “social Groups”. For example the number of people in the world who have seen the movie titanic is a group by classification. The people who go to see rocky horror picture show are something has come practically to the point of a cult experience.

The fashion of people who wear baseball hats is a logical group and does not automatically inspire camaraderie. However the people wearing redsox hats can form an immediate bond.

Again, people who ride single speed bikes in boston are classified based on the purchase of an item, but this can often be part of a cluster of other identity memes that bind a group together.

To make the point further we can look at internet memes. The experience of these memes is largely solitary. And while the spread flows through friend connections it does not so obviously “bind” a group together.

The question can be phrased as this. If you were in a room full of strangers, and it was revealed to you that this other person had shared a particular meme – how close would that bind you?

There is a simple anser, but more interestingly – it depends. It depends on the context, and how common that meme may be in the broader context. There are also ways in which a particular meme can be a signal for a collection of other memes which  – like fibers in a rope – make the connection stronger.

However. Certain types of memes are weak binders though, and not just based on commonality. Internet video for example. It doesn’t matter how rare a particular internet video is – I’m not going to be that excited when somebody else has seen it. If somebody is the same religion that might be more interesting. If somebody is a fan of the same sports team, now we’re talking.

The simple point is that some memes are solitary, and some are nucleation points for group formation.

Some memes spread through the channels of existing groups – like internet memes surfing the existing channels of friendship. And some memes lay the foundation for the formation of new relationships, like icebreakers.

We must be careful with this new dimension of interconnectivity, because it is hard to single out a meme. Often things like religion of fandom, even product purchases are collections of memes, or signals for others. Harley ownership, for example is not just a product classification, it is an attitude, and has many other style signals in order to form a biker gang.


About livingthememe

engineer and armchair philosopher
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