All memes are not create equal. This notion that “everything is a meme” cannot support any reasonable field of study. The starting point of “meme as a unit of culture” as compared to a gene is fine. In the past I have explored the particle model of memes with concepts like “stickiness” and “evangelism”. Memetics would do well to aspire to the level of sophistication seen in biology. For me, actually – a physics analogy would be simpler. Let’s take a look at some different species of these such particles.
1) Mass: Some memes have physical existence, some visual, some audio, some are truly just thoughts. Without proposing or quantifying a specific unit we can clearly see that an image macro, and a crop circle have very different scales. This is important because it presents a degree of difficulty in adoption, mutating and spreading.
2) Medium: Through what ether does a meme flow? For memes of any mass, the internet creates a simple channel. Realize that any form of human communication can be used, sometimes several in parallel. A rumor might spread by word of mouth or on facebook. The medium has a strong interaction with the memetic mass. For example, something that is etched in stone is harder to transfer and takes more time.
3) Time constant: What is the minimum life cycle of a meme from adoption, to spreading? Seconds, minutes, hours, days? It might take me 5 minutes to create an image macro. However, taking up painting might take months or years for me to say that I have “accomplished” a similar visual representation in an alternate medium. The mass, and medium of memes will determine a life cycle time constant which yields its growth characteristics.
4) Interconnection Inertia: Some memes are easier to kill than others. There is a sort of social and societal scaffolding that can hold up a meme over time. The more ways that this meme is reinforced through other connections the harder it will be to kill. For example, some songs are one hit wonders, others become an anthem for a generation. The song “Sweet Caroline” can be a more resilient meme because it is played at every single red sox game in boston. This interconnection inertia can be seen in more complex memetic frameworks like government and religion.
Taking all of these factors into account we hopefully start to talk with more sophistication about the difference between an internet, and language meme to sports, to religion and politics.