Principia Cybernetica Web

Email Memetics

How would memetics operate in the current web environment? 

At the present time, we can observe "memes" propagating out of control, as in spam, virus hoaxes, endless "top ten" lists, and so forth. (A computer virus should not be considered a meme because it does not exist in the mind of the user)

The memes propagate in a similar way to the way that memes propagate in day to day life. A person who receives a meme from someone else, and finds it funny or scary or useful in some way may pass it on. Normally this is limited by the time it takes to verbally relate the meme to another, as well as the delay time between hearing it and passing it on, but on the web it takes only a second to transmit the meme on to many others. The probability of a meme being passed on is linked to whether the individual feels that others need or want to receive it. Since the web makes transmission of memes much easier, the threshold for passing on a meme is lowered. Anything of passing interest may be forwarded on impulse. Since internet social dynamics has evolved, that threshold has risen somewhat, and individuals may consider whether a 'meme' is really sufficiently urgent to pass on. This 'numbness' to information tends to filter out all memes except those of extreme urgency (or hilarity). As a result, only memes which have an immediate emotional impact tend to get forwarded. Hence the effect of drowning out rational discourse with hysterical political-action and virus-hoax emails.

Copyright© 2000 Principia Cybernetica - Referencing this page

Theresa Klein (tjk2[at]

Feb 15, 2000


Introduction to Principia Cybernetica

Philosophy, Introduction

Epistemology, introduction (annotated node)

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