RE: The Status of Memetics as a Science

From: Lawrence DeBivort (
Date: Fri Apr 20 2001 - 21:24:46 BST

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    Subject: RE: The Status of Memetics as a Science
    Date: Fri, 20 Apr 2001 16:24:46 -0400
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    JR Molloy posed the question of engineering and memetics earlier today: By
    engineering in this context I mean the conscious design and release of memes
    for the purpose of achieving a pre-specified outcome. I am concerned that
    this capability may be abused ethically. Wade in past conversations has
    disagreed that such engineering is possible; we can only hope that lots of
    people agree with him and that of these who have nefarious motives take
    their efforts elsewhere and into less powerful areas of endeavour.

    I watched a fascinating PBS Frontline program last night (April 19 2001) on
    the entertainment/advertising industry and their efforts to appear "cool"
    and appeal to kids under 25. They are moving close to memetic-level
    competence by copying youth trends (rebellion, grunge, outsider dress,
    music, language and behavior, etc.) and identifying corporate brands with
    it, e.g. Sprite, Nike, Reebok, The program, having shown how the industry
    does this, then described a 'counter' effort by teens to promote
    anti-commercial trends, whereupon the industry embraced _that_,
    successfully. The narrator of the Frontline program speculated at the end
    that the advertising/entertainment industry and the kids were in a positive
    feedback loop: teen trendsetters influence what the industry embraces; the
    rest of teens embraces the fads shown by the industry, reinforcing the
    success of the industry, and then the teens start to ape the
    commercialization effort of the industry, putting on 'shows' of the trend
    when the industry communications (e.g. MTV channels) are watching. The most
    hopeful thing the program explained was that the fads and their
    commercialization are self-defeating: when a trend has been popularized by
    the commercializers it becomes 'uncool' and the commercializers have to move
    to new fads. Perhaps the 'Columbine' kids ought to be going after industry

    The program also showed an interesting difference between genders: girls are
    seeking a conformist approval (via 'midriff' beauty) and the boys are
    seeking approval via non-conformity (the rebellious grunge-shock look). Of
    course, industry has no problem embracing both themes.

    The program also pointed out that the industry is not interested in older
    consumers, finding them more resistant to their efforts to influence them.
    The teenagers are not only most easily influenced, they are also flush with
    money given to them by parents who feel guilty for their absence from the
    kids' lives, and so good marketing marks.

    - Lawrence
      -----Original Message-----
      From: []On Behalf Of
    Brent Silby
      Sent: Friday, April 20, 2001 12:27 PM
      Subject: Re: The Status of Memetics as a Science

      [Lawrence wrote:"The only danger I can see to memetics (other than that it
    might be poorly
      done and waste time) is that it might give rise to an engineering
    application that might be misused ethically or socially."]

      I think this is already happening -- just look at the advertising


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