I’ve always wanted to create a meme. Something that I can just devise, and watch it spread like a virus. And I didn’t realize it until recently (though it was lurking in the back of my mind) that I’m fascinated by networks – how information is spread from person to person, and how each person is connected, and why, and does the strength of that connection matter, and what kinds of information can be transmitted. If you’re not exactly familiar with the concept of memes I have posted here about them, and there’s a wiki link here.
One question I’d like answered is the degree of complexity of an idea/behaviour that can be transmitted via networks. I imagine it probably has some inverse relationship to the speed of spread, but that’s another thought entirely. There’s also an important discrimination to be made between social learning and a meme. Memes – with the aid of the internet – are often frivilous, innane and short lived. Just look at whatever the top youtube video is this week – some child babbling ‘Charlie’, some fat kid with a light-saber, blah blah blah. Even ‘blah blah blah’ is a meme. We all know what it means and how to use it, and yet it is more than a phoneme, or a morpheme – it is a phrase, it has a purpose unto itself, and can be used in many different contexts to many different ends. For an informal explanation of ‘blah blah blah’ click here.
Again, one can argue for learning, for memes, for social norms, for media influence, for any number of things; but here’s a striking example of the kind of information that can be spread via networks.
It’s based on the work of Christakis & Fowler (2007). Here’s a cutting from their abstract:
Discernible clusters of obese persons were present in the network at all time points, and the clusters extended to three degrees of separation. These clusters did not appear to be solely attributable to the selective formation of social ties among obese persons. A person’s chances of becoming obese increased by 57% (95% confidence interval [CI], 6 to 123) if he or she had a friend who became obese in a given interval. Among pairs of adult siblings, if one sibling became obese, the chance that the other would become obese increased by 40% (95% CI, 21 to 60). If one spouse became obese, the likelihood that the other spouse would become obese increased by 37% (95% CI, 7 to 73). These effects were not seen among neighbors in the immediate geographic location. Persons of the same sex had relatively greater influence on each other than those of the opposite sex.
These effects are independent of geographic location, but of social relativity. Now, to me, it’s not really a meme, but something else. But does demonstrate the information carrying capacity of networks – it’s strong enough to change behaviour. Big behaviour – getting fat, risking your health.
The same guys (Christakis & Fowler, 2007) showed that co-operative behaviour / altrusitic behaviours also spread through networks – up to three people deep (from A to B to C) and that happiness spreads, too (Christakis & Fowler, 2008) – although there is so geographic and time interactions.
I’ve also always been interest in how networks grow, and by what bonds. As mentioned previously I created the Assassins’ League here on my campus (see the blog roll) in order to get people to network and associate and help one another in the future. It’s experienced limited success, but it’s growing – it’s only 6 months old.
There’s next to no literature on how memes of less significant natures spread. I imagine that it’s because it would be next to impossible to measure – unless, somehow, the act of making it public and available online is somehow built into the meme itself (such as documenting the spread of the use of LOL, and similar examples).
(Note: By definition – a Meme is something that spreads of it’s own accord. I have begun ‘The Secret Society of Pizza Delivery Drivers’ group on facebook with the copy below replicated. Let your pizza friends know, and let it spread. I will no longer actively pursue the spread of this meme, but hope to hear reports of it far and wide…)
And so here it is, that which I hope to spread and see far and wide. My meme to world.
The Secret Society of Pizza Delivery Drivers.
I hereby charge that all Pizza Drivers unite in the face of bad weather, dogs, and stingy customers. We are bonded by the drunks that call us names, the idiots with the $50 notes, and the questions about prices we can’t possible answer. Sorry, Man, I just drop them off.
Henceforth, all Pizza Drivers (past and present) shall salute one another by swinging their windscreen wipers when they cross paths on the road. If you see a pizza scooter or a pizza car (even if you’re unmarked) flash the windscreen wipers once. We all share a common purpose. Even if you’re off-duty. Even if you’re retired from our noble profession. Flash the wipers and show solidarity.
If you are a driver (past or present) and you order Pizza to your house, or a mates place. Answer the door and tap the door frame. It’s subtle, unobtrusive – but WE’LL KNOW. We are one and the same.
Pizza Drivers support your brothers and sisters!
I will post this under it’s own heading, just so anyone searching it might find it.
James H. Fowler, & Nicholas A. Christakis (2009). Cooperative Behavior Cascades in Human Social Networks PNAS Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. arXiv: 0908.3497v2
Christakis, N., & Fowler, J. (2007). The Spread of Obesity in a Large Social Network over 32 Years New England Journal of Medicine, 357 (4), 370-379 DOI: 10.1056/NEJMsa066082
Fowler JH, & Christakis NA (2008). Dynamic spread of happiness in a large social network: longitudinal analysis over 20 years in the Framingham Heart Study. BMJ (Clinical research ed.), 337 PMID: 19056788