What’s in a meme?

 Statistics can really class up a blog, but let’s avoid those undecided voter polls (too changeable).   This data is rock solid:  1 television, 3 people, 2 dogs,1 crockpot full of barbecued brisket–our household’s inventory for an evening of Presidential debate viewing.

 Add to that 1 laptop on, trolling for the latest tweets and posts responding in real time to the candidates’ performances. 

 The opponents’ verbal sparring is compelling already and, thanks to Big Bird, malarkey, and binders full of women (just Google “presidential debate memes” for many others), internet-borne memes continue to materialize, gladdening hearts in both camps. 

 Admiring a particularly clever posting online, I suddenly wondered when “meme” became an everyday word.  Of course, it isn’t a new concept, but it seems to have eased into the realm of casual chitchat fairly recently.  “According to Wikipedia”, my daughter read, “meme was coined by Richard Dawkins in 1976.”

I countered that Dawkins couldn’t possibly have invented the term since I knew for certain that Vannevar Bush‘s Memex machine would have been the inspiration for the word.  As bits of “Introduction to Information Science” reading from years back surfaced, I went on to claim that that Bush was the first to envision hyperlinking, as far back as the 1940s. (This topic doesn’t come up often; one has to trot out one’s store of fun facts when one has the chance.)

Well, so much for certainty.  While a few sources believe Bush to be the originator of the term, I saw far more solid evidence for Dawkins. 

At least the Memex/hyperlinking part was accurate:  Vannevar Bush–MIT professor, former director of the Office of Scientific Research and Development, technological visionary–did indeed pioneer hypertext research.  He was a fascinating individual, and his prescient writings, including the landmark “As We May Think“, make great reading even (or especially) today. 

If the current political meme-fest hasn’t claimed all your spare time, you might want to check out these and other resources about memes and their informational context at the library:

  • The Information by James Gleick

  • The Electric Meme: A New Theory of How We Think by Robert Aunger

  • This Will Change Everything: Ideas That Will Shape the Future

    But first, you owe it to yourself to view this ingenious animated demo of the Memex machine. 

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