More on Memes

John Mcreery (jlm@TWICS.COM)
Mon, 14 Feb 1994 11:24:14 JST

As I've said before, I don't think it matters much whether we use the
word "meme." What intriques me is the way Seeker's discussion points
to a problem which is (1) intellectually fascinating and (2) of immediate
practical interest to us in the Advertising Industry: We observe that
some ideas are _infectious_. They spread like wildfire and start popping
up all over the place; they may even radically change the way we think
about ourselves, the world, and everything in it. Seeker's discussion of
memes suggest to me that like computer viruses, these ideas come
equipped with lots of hooks to operating systems (i.e., cultures) and
also include instructions to replicate and spread themselves. Which
leads me to wonder what's a hook.

Historians of ideas often write as if a new idea succeeds because it
addresses new or unresolved problems in the cultures in which they
occur. Thus, for example, in Kuhn's work on paradigm shifts in science,
a period of "normal science" accumulates a growing body of data that do
not fit the existing paradigm. When a new idea appears that resolves
this cognitive dissonance, a scientific revolution occurs. My Japanese
colleagues use a different metaphor; they talk about looking for
"vacuum zones" where a new product or ad idea will fit. In one famous
example, teenage girls were becoming increasingly interested (or at
least more overtly interested) in attracting teenage boys, but found
themselves constrained by school rules forbidding their wearing
perfume. Shiseido came up with a perfumed shampoo named _Koi
Koronn_ (i.e., "Love Cologne") that evaded the rule and scored a minor
marketing triumph.

Question: Is resolving "cognitive dissonance" the essence of a hook? Do
we need to look deeper at "emotional conflict"? Or more broadly at
"conflicts" or "contradictions" implicit in social structure? Or "tensions"
generated by changes in a culture's social, technological, or natural

P.S. The Timothy Leary schema reminds me of nothing so much as the
multiple heavens in Buddhist and Daoist cosmologies. Fun to think, but
on the whole too mannered to be believable. (But then I'm neither
Buddhist or Daoist.)

"Making Symbols is My Business"--John McCreery