Google recently opened up a bunch of usenet posting from 1981 forward. Looking at some of them I found the meme story I had been looking for re this: Keith Henson PS, I am still interested in more details about the story From: MacLeod ([email protected])
Subject: Memes: can memetic theory explain this episode?
View this article only Date: 1989-05-23 22:08:58 PST
From my modest readings in Memetics I think that the writers are reifying significance out of little real substance. But I could be wrong. In any case, I'd like to see a memetic analysis of one of my favorite stories in cultural anthropology. Aside from any facts I may have garbled, the story is real. The US maintains one or more isolated research stations at or near the South Pole, where they recieve few visitors and where radio conditions are such as to prevent contact with the rest of the world for long periods. According to the story, there are two shifts sent there, a summer shift and a winter shift. The winter shift has, as one might imagine, the harder time, spending virtually six months underground in artificial conditions. One fall the winter team was checking in. They arrived with their personal gear and a supply of cultural artifacts designed to entertain and divert them during their stay. VCR machines and videotapes were very popular. After some time the crew had looked at all the available tapes, theirs and their friends, and were starved for input. Then some genius took three of the VCRs and the stack of tapes and began to create a sort of vernacular art-form consisting of snips of this and that. According to the story, he used westerns, Disney movies, pornography, and recordings previously made from television, among other sources. It was spliced together to form a two-hour long, uh, "media event". From reports, it was hilarious, and the crew watched it over and over. And over and over. Soon the dialogue which accompanied various scenes began to creep into conversations at the base; doings and events were described in terms of events from the tape. The tape soon became the yardstick with which life and activity was explained and rationalized. One sees the punchline coming. When the summer shift arrived, according to the story, they could *hardly communicate* with the inhabitants. Some synergistic effect of the isolation, the mad genius of the tape's author, and the personalities of the crew members had generated mass schizophrenia. It might be instructive to get parallel analyses of this even from a fundamentalist Xtian, a Scientologist, a General Semanticist, a Freudian psychoanalyst, a memeticist, and Buckminster Fuller. I wish it were possible. Michael Sloan MacLeod (amdahl!drivax!macleod) ********* My reply at the time was: Message 4 in thread
From: H Keith Henson ([email protected])
Subject: Re: Memes: can memetic theory explain this episode?
View this article only
Date: 1989-05-24 20:51:59 PST
Michael Sloan MacLeod (amdahl!drivax!macleod) recently posted a story about a South Pole group which (under the influence of a spliced together tape) had reached the state where they could hardly communicate with the summer shift change. He requested input from "a memeticist" to explain what was going on. From the memetics viewpoint human minds are as vulnerable to some classes of memes as computers are to computer viruses. The origin of this vulnerability is the ability of people to learn from each other. Just as computers can communicate viruses to each other, we can communicate accents, jokes, social movements, etc. I find (to my great annoyance) that I pick up "you know" if I am in the presence of people who use it. There is no simple way I can see to get around this vulnerability; our cells can't give up replicating DNA to avoid viruses, and we can't give up our ability to learn from one another. In the particular environment involved in this case, even those slow to pick up others' traits would get them from incessant exposure. As to the details of why this spliced tape had such a strong effect in this particular case, I would very much like more details and a chance to look at the tape. Keith Henson