The trouble with memes…

…is that (for me at least) they have to resonate.

That is, they have to strike me as something I’d want to contribute to.

Which makes researching an empty meme difficult and probably not very meaningful: The empty meme will only spread among those for whom memes as memes are interesting, not those willing to add to an interesting sort of serial conversation.

So, sorry, CW, but I’m not playing. And I don’t believe the results will show anything about how real memes spread, or even the pseudo-memes that get picked up from blog to blog because bloggers find the topic or technique or whatever fun, worthwhile, intriguing.

Yes, this is a semi-blind item. For it not to be blind, I’d be participating in the empty meme. Which I’m not inclined to do. On the other hand, I do believe the point about meaningful research is valid: When the thing being researched (in the social sciences) only exists for the purpose of research, the results are likely to be skewed.

Imagine a 30-minute survey whose only topic, evident from the beginning, is how you feel about taking 30-minute surveys… Or, for that matter, a two-minute survey of that nature.

4 Responses to “The trouble with memes…”

  1. CW Says:

    Fair enough, Walt – I did think about the effectiveness of this study when I considered when I actually posted my response – I saw the meme at work but didn’t want to post during work hours, so I only ended up posting it several hours later. Which would of course have skewed it. (And it doesn’t take into account bloggers answering memes days, weeks, or months after they first saw the meme, because they saved it up for when they don’t have anything better to write about that day.) He could have made the meme more meme-like by asking bloggers to write about why they like memes, for instance ;)

  2. jessamyn Says:

    well that was cryptic. Is there a link someplace that I missed?

  3. CW Says:

    Walt didn’t link to the meme itself: it’s at this blog.

  4. walt Says:

    Jessamyn, it was cryptic for the reasons provided in the third paragraph. If the rest of the post was cryptic, well, I thought I had something to say about the difficulty of social science research (where the observer effect puts quantum mechanics to shame), and specifically the fact that you can’t study the speed of propagation of a content-bearing mechanism by using a mechanism with no content.

    CW’s suggestion is actually quite good: The researcher would have had a more valid meme test by asking bloggers to write about why they like memes.

    As I believe I said in another context, there just are going to be occasional blind items here, and they always come with the proviso that–as with all other posts–you’re perfectly free to treat them as vacuous. Won’t hurt my feelings.


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