Slate.com has an interesting article examining the way internet chain emails and web content work.
Writer Chris Wilson focuses particularly on the ‘25 Things About Me’ meme in Charles Darwin Tagged You in a Note on Facebook, providing some in-depth analysis of the way chain content spreads across the Facebook network, and likening its progression to the same way a disease operates when infecting new hosts.
While this may seem a little dramatic, Wilson is by no means the first to draw a comparison between chain emails and other web content to the way viruses work in evolutionary biology.
In fact, the field of Memetics is devoted to exploring the way informal information spreads among groups of people, modelling this spread along evolutionary lines.
Much as Chris Wilson writes, in Memetics a new idea, custom or belief — a meme — must be transmissible to a large group of people or it will be unlikely to survive. The implication isn’t that the meme itself wants to survive, but that the people who accept or participate in it want it to survive to varying degrees. In this way a meme can be thought of to work exactly in the way a virus might – to survive, the meme must spread, often mutating  in the process to become more adaptable to other hosts.
Some memes are much more efficient at ‘infecting’ new hosts than others. For example, chain content that is both alarming and at least a little believable  can often spread across huge groups of people, working on the ‘just in case’ principle. Other memes might work simply by being appealing in some way to a wide number of hosts, while still others operate on an implied obligation and reward basis.
Why this is interesting in the study of Urban Legends and folklore is that it helps us understand the very human process of wanting or feeling obligated to be ‘involved’. The motivations of each individual who forwards or changes a chain email might be different from person to person, but across groups of people we can begin to see that memes communicate because they are suitable in some way to each individual who participates.
To read the original article, visit: Charles Darwin Tagged You in a Note on Facebook