RE: Memes inside brain

From: Vincent Campbell (
Date: Mon Oct 08 2001 - 16:28:57 BST

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    From: Vincent Campbell <>
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    Subject: RE: Memes inside brain
    Date: Mon, 8 Oct 2001 16:28:57 +0100 
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    (I know, I know... but rules are meant to be broken).

    Couldn't resist this one.

            <This message is for me connected to a problem I have been thinking
    about for
    > some time: cultural inscription seems to have moved from oral, to written
    > and more recently to audio-visual forms: Irish literature was for example
    > in
    > existence on moral-memory form before being written down. What has this
    > evolution meant, caused or been caused by, from a memetic point of view? >
            It strikes me that this transformation offers all sorts of new
    possibilities. All three of fecundity, fidelity and longevity are enhanced
    by using media other than oral record. The permanence of a message (if not
    its interpretation) is undoubtedly improved through being recorded in some
    form or other. Fidelity too is helped through mass media at any rate
    (printing being more reliable for reproducing books than hand copying etc.).
    And of course the mass media in particular offer tremendous potential for
    fecundity, reaching lots of people, now including a virtual global audience.

            It also is significant in a different sense. Oral traditions are
    usually dominated by vertical transmission- key people hold the particular
    knowledge (e.g. the tribe's ancestral stories), and pass it on selectively.
    With media there's ever greater potential for rapid horizontal transmission.
    A good example here would by the whole MP3 debate, where the dissemination
    of music becomes something done by lots of people in lots of places, and
    therefore more difficult to stop than simply taking Napster to court.

            Of course one quite controversial view in terms of the causes of
    this is that all these forms of media have been memetically driven as it
    were. I believe it was Susan Blackmore who came in for a lot of stick on
    this list for questioning the utility of fax machines, for example, or
    rather the utility of fax machines to humans, as opposed to their utility
    for memes. To give some good examples of the proliferation of media
    technologies, I heard the other day that since their launch in 1999, some 37
    million DVD players have been sold in the UK. That is a massive growth of a
    new medium (video and CDs, in comparison grew very slowly). The UK
    population is a little under 60 million or so. Another good example (this
    one from the UN Human Development Report, various editions of which are
    available online) is the stat that the number of radios per 1000 people in
    the USA is around 2000. So, in the US there are roughly 2 radios for every
    individual. (What's that in real numbers, about 430 million radios?).

            For me the issue that's missed by many memeticists who touch on the
    media, is the question of how mediated communication is different from
    interpersonal communication. Observing behaviour on television is not the
    same as observing a friend or family member, for instance, so what does that
    difference do to questions of learning/imitation etc.? We know that
    television, for example, is not a good medium for attempts at deliberate
    instruction, but also that it can command a lot of attention from audiences
    (50 million+ watching the last episode of Seinfeld etc.) so therefore can't
    be inconsequential. So, I think something(s) is(are) different in the nature
    of memetic transmission from medium to medium, that may be consequential for
    memes' effectiveness. Although what those differences might be I don't

            Paul's recent comments about risks of copycat hijackings is for me a
    misnomer as I've said, but what we have seen already is that almost any
    transportation oriented incident is being reported with the attacks in mind-
    from the Indian plane hijack (what happened to that story, it went off the
    news so quickly I missed the resolution of it), to the Greyhound bus attack,
    the Swiss parliamentary gunman, and the Black Sea plane crash. Mass media
    allow for, facilitate, or are responsible for (pick anyone of those levels)
    relatively rapid framing, and agenda setting of debates, and this may be
    where they are important for memes. For example, the very rapid blaming of
    the US attacks on bin Laden meant that possible alternative culprits
    (pro-Milosevic Serbs, Cubans, Iraqis etc. etc.) didn't get on the agenda.
    One could compare that with the nail bomb attacks in the UK of a couple of
    years ago (during the Kosovan war). They turned out to have been by a lone
    fascist nutcase (sorry for the tautology in 'fascist nutcase'), but
    reporting of the initial attacks offered literally dozens of possible
    culprits (I remember this because we used it in teaching- one report in the
    Guardian newspaper named about 7 or 8 different possible groups in the wake
    of the first attack).

            Vincent (definitely the last post today....)

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