Sunday, 18 November 2007


Richard Dawkins, the evolutionary biologist coined the term meme in 1976. We are born with genes, but we acquire memes. Current definition on Wikipedia says that a meme "comprises a theoretical unit of cultural information, the building block of cultural evolution or diffusion that propagates from one mind to another analogously the way in which a gene propagates from one organism to another as a unit of genetic information and of biological evolution. Multiple memes may propagate as cooperative groups called memeplexes (meme complexes)."

Memes are at once the mechanism and the very fuel of social networks. It only takes a few people to propagate a meme from being a minority pastime to becoming social norm. Moscovici, the social psychologist conducted research into minority influence, and showed that a small group can change the views of a majority: that's how communism, Nazism, Christianity, and bottled mineral water started.

One of the more interesting memes to emerge in recent times, is for people in England to drive around during sports tournaments with the St George's flag flying on their car. To the non-British ear this perhaps doesn't sound too radical, but twenty years ago this would have only been done by far-Right political 'activists'. The World Cup brought out millions of St George crosses as the symbol became increasingly mainstream. These flags have just appeared out of nowhere. No idea who started this one, but its changed perceptions of the flag, those who fly it, and also how its used. Once you look beyond the surface of this meme, there are some more difficult themes than sporting solidarity, but on the surface this is an interesting example of how a small (unidentified) group can influence a majority and spawn a meme that replicates through the social graph.

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