dec 31

The Meme Decade?

I wonder: what is the quality of 'viral' that makes it viral? Some would say it has something to do with the medium -- the way it gets passed around socially, without the aid of traditional outlets. In that sense, the 'viral hit' is somewhat like the 'sleeper hit' -- it starts slow, builds momentum. It doesn't seem much different.

But I wonder if that's not what people mean at all when they say 'viral.' I suspect they mean something much closer to a different phenom from a previous decade: the 'one-hit wonder.' In that sense, is Blind Melon really any different than Tay Zonday?

--Me, quoted in an essay that proposes the aughts were the first decade to be defined by their virality (memes), an interesting theory that I possibly tried to debunk.

1 comment

Rex, good definition...but it turns on the phrase "without the aid of traditional outlets." Was Barack Obama's use of social media taking advantage to the "viral" nature of social media? Maybe, but it was in the service of a "traditional" entity -- a presidential campaign. Contrast that with the Tea Party phenomenon -- there's really no "traditional" organizing entity (though some like are helping out or tagging along). Also, think of other recent phenomenon -- the Dan Rather memo, or, more recently, Climategate, where the docs are posted on Russian server, and then copied dozens of times so that, now, they have a permanence. That copying was "viral"

I think the better metaphor is one that Glenn Reynolds coined, "An Army of Davids." If you haven't read his book, you should.

posted by Karl K at 10:03 AM on January 2, 2010

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