Wednesday, 13 February 2013

Serious Business: What the existence of memes means

Firstly, here's my train of thought:
Advertisements -> Viral Advertising -> Memes -> Memetic Viruses (inc. Viral Advertising) -> Epiphany

As you can see, I was thinking about how adverts have changed since the explosion of the internet. They have become more focussed on being something that latches onto peoples' interest and follows them around until they can share it with others. In essence, the new strategy for advertising is to create a highly-potent memetic virus and load it up with your company's details.

However, that wasn't the focus of my epiphany. That would be the system through which this idea seems to work so well: the internet. From that, I realised that the way people communicate through our global data network is fundamentally different to how we communicate in real life, and the results of this can be seen everywhere you look on the net. I'll break it up so I can explain better.

Firstly, the way a person is represented in the Real and the Wired (i.e. the internet) are completely separate. In real life, people are represented by their physical form, their bodies. These bodies are a result of genetics and often don't represent well the conciousness inside them. On the internet, however, a person's representation is wholly a product of their mind and thus represents their personality (or an aspect of it) much better. The exception of course is Facebook and the like where the Real and Wired personae are one and the same.

Secondly, given the above, communication over the internet is a much more direct method of transferring data, specifically ideas. The body is still a link in the chain of communication, but it's function is diminished to simple data entry. The ideas themselves are translated directly (via the body and keyboard) to the computer where they can be transmitted to another person and translated back via a monitor and the recipient's eyes.
In the Real, communication is much more complex, with things like appearance, tone and body language changing the meaning of the message and, in computing terms, introducing noise into the signal. Of course, this much greater 'bandwidth' does allow for ideas to be passed on more completely but the capacity for miscommunication is much, much higher (ever played Chinese Whispers? Wouldn't work in a chat room would it?).

Thirdly, given both of the above, the internet provides a near-perfect platform for the transference of simple, strong ideas between many people, very rapidly. This can easily be seen in the existence of memes. If an idea as simple and meaningless as the typical internet meme can spread so quickly and infect so many people so strongly (how many times has something happened and the first thing your mind recalls is an appropriate meme?) the internet a lot more powerful and more closely connected to our own personalities than a lot of us realise.

Anyway, I hope I've made at least some sense and not just been rambling. Though I have a sneaking suspicion I've watched Lain too many times. Or not enough, I'm never sure which.