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discussion on memetics & disease study

Last posted Aug 13, 2009 at 06:40PM EDT. Added Aug 13, 2009 at 05:20PM EDT
5 posts from 4 users

Now Spanish researchers claim to have found a way to accurately predict how quickly and widely new pieces of information, or “memes” as they are called, will spread. The ability to forecast this “viral” behaviour would be of great interest to sociologists and marketeers, among others.

The secret, they say, is to recognise the fact that people vary in how “infectious” they are when it comes to sharing content online. While some people pass on things they receive right away, others do so after some delay, or not at all.

So here’s an article published on about internet memes and how some scientists are applying epidemiology to study memes. This left me entirely unimpressed and frankly a bit confused.

What are your thoughts on analogy between disease spreading (virus) and meme (cultural idea) spreading?

Aug 13, 2009 at 05:20PM EDT

Well, no one chooses to spread a virus, and you don’t always know if you are doing so. People willingly share memes, and some poeple actually look for pictures and videos pretaining to certain memes, or for memes in general.

Aug 13, 2009 at 05:29PM EDT

Well, in a way, it is not casual to talk about “viral” videos, ideas, and so, memes, is it ?
But, here, memes seem to be shown as a wrong thing because of their epidemic property. Or, at least, it can be easily misunderstood.

Viruses and memes are not on the same ladder, are they ?

So, I don’t know what to think of this.

Aug 13, 2009 at 05:33PM EDT

@ Average Joe

you’re right, people do willingly share ideas/memes and oftentimes through selective process. To me, this implies that there’s varying values associated with memes (i.e., lulz or more commonly, interest), thus higher this value, more prevalent a meme can be. In the article above, the scientists labeled this vague concept as “R0” or basic reproductive number.

What I am unsure about is this: by applying epidemiology (considered a highly evidence-based branch of science) to memetics, surely we can gain more info on the routes of transmission and how they spread, but is it relevant at all to the question of why (X spread and Y didn’t)?

Another way to address this question: Is high “interest value” determined by overall popularity (widely spread & popular, therefore interesting) or does individual value of memes determine their likelihood of becoming popular (it’s funny/interesting, therefore popular and prone to spread)?

Aug 13, 2009 at 06:30PM EDT

The R0 of the virus is how many people an infected person can infect. This isn’t solely a trait that has to do with the virus, but how many people a single person could happen to infect.

The common cold likely has a high R0 since it can be trasmitted through the air, whereas aids would likely have a lower R0.

So if we were to apply r0 to memetics, I think it could only measure the potential for spread based on the influence of that person’s reach. If that person regularly updates a blog that draws a large following, that person could be said to have a high R0. At least that’s how I understood the article. The whole thing seems to argue that a meme doesn’t spread by it’s own merits, but by the influence of the person who spreads it.

Aug 13, 2009 at 06:40PM EDT

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