I’m studying memetics these days, and have found it to be a useful framework for understanding the way that culture and ideas shape our thought. One of the key notions in this framework is that memes are transmitted via all forms of communication. This includes indirect transmission; that is, the implication of a meme may transmitted without referring to its core tenets explicitly.
There’s something chilling about that idea. When I comment on someone’s Facebook post, for example, that person may very well become infected by my own meme ‘load’, whether or not I say anything that directly pertains to it. The reverse is true: I read a post by someone, and their hidden assumptions and biases are injected into my own meme receptors. Of course, memes resist change, so my meme immune response creates a critical barrier to incoming ideas, particularly those that challenge my inner status quo. There are ways around that response, though.
One way is through emotional appeals. My emotions respond nonverbally to my inputs. I feel a surge of indignation, or a clench of pity tightens my chest. The trigger, conditioned by the memeplex of its author, subverts my inner critic, who becomes convinced that this new information is important to me because of this powerful effect.
I have been receiving the storm of memes aroused by the news of the tragic mass murder of the women here in California the other day. My own responses to those thoughts, those feelings, are so kaleidoscopically intense that I can formulate no meaningful statement concerning them. At every turn I find myself confronted with a cultural introspective statement: feminist ideas, thoughts concerning mental illness, the ideological postures of so many of us. However, I can respond to the phenomenon of the memes responding to that event. I am convinced that the murderous intent of that young man has served to further polarize us along ideological lines.
Which brings me to the thesis of this post: Facebook is a steaming hothouse that breeds meme vectors at a dizzying rate. I have never seen such a stupendous blizzard of competing thoughts before, and when I consider that with the notion that FB is addictive, I conclude that it exerts a powerful memetic distortion field that only strengthens our meme load and makes it ever more resistant to change.
This is not good.
One potent antidote, for me, is to frame everything I read as a meme carrying bite of information. Objectifying the information that way helps me to maintain an immune response, even in the face of powerful emotional inducements. The tendency to become cynically introspective is powerful, of course, so I must counteract that with a strategem: emotional connections with my closest friends, both on and off the ‘Book. If I can maintain this odd balance, a dynamic balance that keeps my own train of thought lively, I may be able to keep my own perspective and offer something of value in response.