Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Memes - why do we do them?

I was recently tagged with the 8 random facts meme, as were a host of other people. Having only recently been hit with the goal meme and before that with the 5 little known facts meme, I was wondering why we do these things. Especially since I have never "done" chain letters or chain emails. So how are these memes different?

In a way, I think they do something to foster the community. When I first started blogging, there was a meme going around about what books you might have on your coffee table (of course, I can't find any trace of it now to link to!) and some of the blogs I read included a post along those lines. I remember feeling kind of left out - unnoticed, perhaps. The first time I was tagged, I had mixed feelings. I was really pleased that I had made enough of a blip on someone's radar, but by the same token I felt awkward about having to tag people in my turn.

I always read with interest the meme posts of the people I have come to know through their blogs. I am fascinated to learn things about them in the same way I am interested in learning more about the people I meet in real life. I'm interested to know that Janet Clarey is a slip of a girl at just 5' tall, that Cammy Bean was a "navy brat", that Michele Martin has a mixed race marriage (although my husband and I are both white - he is European and I am African, so we see ours as being a mixed marriage, too), that Mark Oehlert would like to win the lottery without ever buying a ticket, that Stephanie Sandifer is a Cajun.

I confess that some people have me a little cowed, though - for example, I would never dream of tagging Stephen Downes or Dave Snowden with a meme (although I regularly tag them as references on other posts) and I felt very brave tagging Scott Adams with the 8 random facts meme (note: he didn't bite). I've never seen anyone else tagging them either, so perhaps I'm not alone in that. I wonder if these people are relieved to be left in peace or whether they're secretly hurt that no-one's apparently interested in knowing more about them on a personal level. Having said that, Stephen posts many pictures of his cats and his holidays, so he's obviously not skittish about revealing his humanity online.... and if you haven't yet seen his ANTics, fie upon you - go and do that right now.

Tagging someone with a meme is also a way of drawing attention to their blog and potentially increasing their traffic. This was my thinking recently when I tagged my friend and colleague Mark Berthelemy. Mark has never really struck me as the sort of person who would take kindly to being tagged, so I have previously not done so. However, he is currently busy with some research for his dissertation and is using his blog as a medium to link to it. I thought that perhaps some readers who found their way to this blog by following the meme might also find their way over their and contribute their 2p worth to Mark's research in the process.

So, in a way, it seems as if memes are the blog equivalent of small talk. Do you come here often?


Anonymous said...

I think you are right in identifying the "community building" function of the "meme" Karyn - which makes me feel even more uncomfortable about my desperate and seemingly churlish avoidance of them - and like you I hate chain letters and the way they prey on the insecurities of the elderly - I have an arrangement with the elderly I care about whereby they can hand them on to me and I take all responsibility for what happens after this.

Your comment about memes as a (e) small talk equivalent makes me feel better - I struggle with f2f small talk as well.

Stephen Downes said...

As Artichoke says, you are right in identifying the community building function of the "meme".

It represents one of the first steps in group formation, the drawing of a line to indicate "who's in" and "who's out".

I would never dream of engaging in an activity that so obviously (with Technorati linkage as a reward) at once inclusive and exclusive.

Anonymous said...

Arti - I understand where you're coming from.

Stephen - ditto, but ouch! Way to make a girl feel shallow ;-)

Donald H Taylor said...


Stephen is right when he identifies memes as a form of group formation, but it isn't the only one, and I wouldn't ignore them for that reason. After all, you don't have to tag someone in a particular group - I usually don't for exactly this reason.

One of the original, rather shallow, goals of memes was to drive site traffic, which they probably still do - although a little less now that the novelty has worn off for most people.

In fact, it's because of this wearing off of novelty that I usually steer clear of memes. I can't believe that people find my personal life that interesting. Having said that, I've just been hit twice for the 8-random-things meme, so I think it would be churlish not to do it.

I might tag Stephen, just to see his reaction!


Anonymous said...

:-D I don't think you'd get one, Donald - Stephen is practised at not rising to the bait! As, I might add, is Dave Warlick.