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Holly Arnold

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Are memes important for our survival? How can we draw on memetic theory to inspire ideas of sustainability that go viral?

Memes are elements of a culture or behavior that may be passed from one individual to another by non-genetic means. Dan Dennet's TED talk addresses memes that are powerful because they inspire passionate, extremist behavior based on idealistic notions of freedom, justice, truth, communism, capitalism, and religion. While not always bad, memes can be destructive and result in conflict and death. Yet, memes have great potential benefit to humanity by eliciting behaviors that promote equality, peace, and sustainability. Sustainability in particular has been suggested to be the most important factor in determining the fate of humanity, as discussed by Paul Gildings. How can we harness the power of memes to inspire notions of patriotism, freedom, and justice that elicit a passionate response for the cause of sustainability, rather than a passionate response that leads to conflict?

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  • Mar 8 2012: I think the importance of sustainability is starting to break into the mainstream culture. The fact that one can go into a department store and buy a shirt that says recycle on it (ironic, I know) shows that the public does care about the effects we have on the Earth. Throughout most societies the rich have been a huge source of memes for their culture. People imitate what those of a higher social status are doing. For example, pale, plump women use to be considered beautiful, back when only wealthy women were able to eat that much and stay indoors all the time. Now, our culture tends to consider skinny, tan women to be beautiful, in a time when it is a luxury to spend time in the sun, eat healthy food, and spend time exercising. If movie stars and the ultra rich were to participate in sustainable activities, such as having home vegetable gardens, patronizing locally owned businesses, and *gasp* wearing an outfit more than once, the public would take that idea and duplicate it on a fairly massive scale. Especially if they raised awareness, it would be a step in the right direction.
    • Mar 8 2012: You definitely make a valid point. If there was a way to create a meme that would involve the rich and the famous to bring about a sustainability awareness I think that it would be generally accepted. Teens and young adults would see their idols 'going green' and strive to do the same. I know that there have been a few commercials out there that involve these ideas, but if they were to increase such media than we would see an increase in the amount of individuals that joined together in sustainability efforts.
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    Mar 7 2012: I think it is important to make a distinction between a meme and dynamic word association. For example, a meme can powerfully transfer an idea from person to person (positively or negatively) based on the power of its merit. Whereas, certain words can instantly evoke mental and emotional reactions and transfer influence based on association, for good or evil. I remember watching a documentary where the words "death tax" were used to replace "estate tax." This had a powerful impact on listeners when they considered being taxed when they died. After all, they reasoned, the estate tax was for the rich, so who cares? I think this reflects the power of word association vs. the power of an idea that is transferred through a meme such as a symbol or cultural expression.
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      Mar 7 2012: Excellent point. Word associations to emotions are used all the time. For example the "war on terror" was originally labeled "operation infinite justice". People had such a negative reaction to these words that they renamed it.

      "Sustainability" to me seems to be neutral in the emotional response that it receives. It could mean a greater expense in terms of a good or service being produced (a slight negative reaction).. It could also contain a positive reaction in terms of a "green future".

      What about these:
      "Earth Liberation Front",
      "Earth Freedom Fighters"
      "The war on contamination"
      • Mar 7 2012: This brings up the idea of branding. Branding is the idea of finding the right words and/or images (memes in themselves) to represent an idea, an organization, or a product. Thus, branding is building on the memes that already exist and creating more associations. Everywhere you look you can see evidence of the power of branding. Is there a way we can harness this power to further the idea of sustainability?
        • Mar 7 2012: Memes are passed on from person to person directly relating to the way they strike a person on an individual level. If we see or hear a meme that we think has some level of intrinsic value we will surely pass it on. Whether those memes are words images or ideas, if they merit some feeling, good or bad, we are likely to share those memes and feeling with another person. All the way passing the meme on to that person.
          Now, if this aspect of a meme can be harnessed to double as an educational tool then ideas can be spread in a positive manner. Ideas such as sustainability can be presented in a good light or bad, but have the same overall impact on that person. For instance if the negative impacts of global warming were presented to a group of young adults it could reinforce the importance of sustainability. So by presenting a meme with a negative meaning/feeling we could promote positive change in the world of ecological advancements.
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        Mar 7 2012: Holly and Lucie, you both bring up some great dialogue here. Emotional word plays coupled with branded imagery is a powerful combination. Fortunately, you are suggesting it for good use. Unfortunately, Madison avenue doesn't always have the same vision. Case in point: Ad Agency Saatchi and Saatchi convincing even themselves that Cheerios were "mysterious" in their former campaign of the product. I agree that these tools can harness our energies and be put to work for noble causes as you are suggesting.
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      Mar 7 2012: Perhaps we are then talking about two different classes of memes. The first class of memes are memes that are logical and therefore are often less controversial in nature. The second kind are memes that play on emotions. Subscribers to logic might not see this second type of meme as "playing fair". Perhaps it is time for logic-users to "logically manipulate emotions" in a way to better serve the interests of the human race. (At what point is it logical to "stop playing fair"?)
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        Mar 7 2012: Hmm, I've wondered about this concept for years. When does strategy cross the line to become manipulation? The only answer I've come up with is the motivation of the person using it determines that. But, that is hard to gauge in other people because how can we know what their motivation is? There is logical manipulation, too, it's called NLP. I don't know a lot about it, but I ran into it a while back in certain marketing and copywriting trainings. I'm not a fan, and I don't believe in using it in marketing as it so often is utilized. Perhaps I'm naive, but I think ideas should have the ability to be transferred based on their merits without the help of trickery. Maybe I'm getting a bit off track from you original question at this point. Getting back, I do think that it is worth taking time to consider how to cause good ideas to spread through a better understanding of memetic theory. If bad ideas are being spread using the wrong motivations and tactics, at least good ideas will gain a better chance of winning if we are smart about how to spread them.
  • Mar 8 2012: I'm not sure how many people may have already seen this but, I felt it necessary to share this link.
    The Majestic Plastic Bag ( Example of a very powerful meme)
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N-Q59am5SsM
    • Mar 8 2012: That is an awesome video! I'm going to spread it :)
      • Mar 8 2012: Great video! I really like the idea of making a nature documentary about the great migration of a plastic bag. The David Attenborough-esque voice over really helps to drive home how unnatural this migration really is.
        • Mar 9 2012: I absolutely love the fact that they've taken something so negative and turned into a positive illusion. You almost end up cheering the plastic bag but then in the middle of it you're exposed to extremely disturbing images of marine life suffocating due to plastic. I think those images arise a feeling of ambivalence in the viewer which helps convey the message in a very strong manner. You are just left there reconsidering every choice you have made in the past and how much of that plastic patch may be the result of your choices.
  • Mar 8 2012: Since this question has been posted, I have noticed a very powerful meme being rapidly propagated throughout the vast expanses of cyber space, in the form of Invisible Children's "Kony 2012" video. The video was posted to Youtube (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y4MnpzG5Sqc) two days ago and it already has racked up over 22 million views. The power in this meme lies not in the humanitarian effort that it presents, but more-so in the idea that we, as global citizens, can all come together and make change happen. Through the use of the internet and social networks, we have the power to spread awareness of issues and demand that our governments do something about it. For so long the avenues for mass mimetic transfer (the media) have been in a stranglehold by a relatively small group of people, who may or may not have ulterior motives in filtering the memes that actually reach the populace, but the advent of the internet has opened the floodgates for memes of any type to reach any number of people. If looking at memes as a virus, the internet takes the contact rate of an infected individual and raises it exponentially. The folks at Invisible Children take full advantage of this, and not only have they successfully raised awareness of this specific Ugandan war criminal, but they have raised awareness of the potential for raising awareness in our digital age. This idea/meme, that we have the capability to communicate and organize on a global scale and create meaningful change, is what I think will aid in propelling us into a more sustainable future.
  • Mar 7 2012: It is interesting to consider that ideas are viral in a way that reflects the spread of biological viruses. Awareness of the idea of sustainability makes one susceptible to it, and this means that it will have the potential to spread as an idea and possibly an ideology for many people. As far as memes go, however, sustainability is very complex and requires a lot of factors to be taken into consideration if it is to successfully spread. Since the goodness and badness of memes is entirely subjective to the individual, it is difficult to say what kind of memes will incite peaceful responses as opposed to violent responses. This is further complicated by the presence of memes that link memes associated with sustainability to memes associated with extreme, or conflict provoking, memes. Certain memes associate environmental protection with socialist or sacrificial ideals. Although socialism is not viewed negatively by all, it is by many in the United States, and if sustainability is to be supported by the majority of citizens memes must powerfully depict sustainability in a way that overshadows the more negative viewed association. To take the analogy to its limit, sustainability represents a virus, and memes supporting sustainability act to decrease the immunity of a susceptible individual to its infection and memes demeaning sustainability act as protection against infection. We must decide as a democratic society that sustainability is a virus worth spreading.
  • Mar 7 2012: I think the super meme of the scientific prospective and transparency may be two of the most penicilinish remedies for a lot bad memes. Over time rigorous reexaminations of the situations around you and metrics weighing the cost, combine with experimentation is responsible for a lot of the modern worlds memes. With that you can examine what positive effects and negative effects come from certain ways of thinking. Most memes have a reason they replicate effectively, just like most creatures on the planet do. People have invented meme warfare as Brant pointed out, though the start of meme warfare goes back a long ways we are better able to control and study it now.

    Sometimes good memes go bad, using pseudo-memes that act close to the original but with a hijacked purpose. People who feel threatened, hated, wounded I think are more likely to generate these memes. So trying to make fewer disfranchised people in the world might help.

    I think of near equal danger to weakening the effect of bad memes is promoting the effectiveness of good memes. When somebody does something that makes you excited, thrilled to be near them, and proud to be the same species as they are evaluate why, and try to hijack some of those good memes. Look around yourself for people that you want to replicate part of their being in yourself then do so. If you get good at this you may even be able to replicate some of the things in people you don't like that could benefit the treasure trove of memes you are carrying around.

    Getting rid of your own bad memes: Allow others to be open and honest with you without being hurt. If they think the way you think is wrong allow them to have a discussion, but not to call you useless names. I like Lenny Bruce meme that names have the power we give them, and have expanded that in my life to when somebody attacks me with slurs to force them to define why they are applicable and why I should give them power.
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    Mar 7 2012: Memes operate in the "sociosphere".
    The sociosphere can be defined as the Symbolic intercommunication and retention of the human species as at this moment.
    It is a subset of the metashere (all things non-physical).
    The symbolic retention of a human individual serves as a filter, by which perceptions are evaluated and classified.
    Subsequent classification builds on a belief system from which motivation and agency are exerted for advantageous physical change.
    A meme is a symbolic construct that attaches to the cognitive process. The attachment could best described as a "tickle" that attracts attention.
    Memes such as the NYAN Cat seem to have no purposeful attachment - it tickles us simply becuase of the aparatus of our perceptual/cognitive system.
    Other memes can draw attachment to existing belief systems - e.g. "when the going gets tough - the tough get going" ...
    Either way, memes draw attention to themselves and induce motive to distribute the meme - thus they spread by seconding our gregarious response and subsequent agency.
    One can regard memes as a kind of "standing-wave" that prevails in the consciousness and gains attention(priority) without need for additional external stimulus or proof.
    Memes are very definitely being manufactured and injected into our sociosphere - have been for ages. And some of these memes are quite destructive e.g. "If you are not with me, you are against me" ...
    Because memes are self-supporting, the only way to destroy them is with a carefully placed "counter-meme" a counter meme gets attached to the original and neutralizes it e.g. climate-change is now attached with climate-change-hoax.
    I regard memes as examples of local-minima (in the neural net processing sense). They certainly affect us, but are a symptom of insufficient analysis.
    Unfortunately, a lifetime is not enough to conduct sufficient analysis on everything we perceive. THere are always assumptions used as place-holders. Memes could be used to attack critical assumptions.
  • Mar 8 2012: I have seen a lot of Internet memes and I really think that those memes are not very important for our survival because they do not hold the kind of reverence that other memes do, such as political or religious memes. But these Internet memes do hold a place in the Internet community, and I feel that they do inspire laughter which is very important in modern day soceity.
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    Mar 8 2012: I agree with the ideas people are posting that early memes were related to survivability and memes from more recent times seem to have a component of superficiality. I really liked the earlier chain of comments about making a sustainability meme like a game. I feel like what we need to do is find a way to make this really available to the masses. What about some sort of an education program through schools. If we make something fun and common place it'll be easier for the meme to spread.

    What do you guys think about a game relating to personal prairies (like in a pot, or a 1 sq meter plot of someones yard)? Only 1% of the original prairies in the US are still in existence. Could someone establish a "Prairie Game" that connects the establishment of individual prairies and then observations of the number of key species that visit each individuals plot to see who can find the most species visiting? This would not only help to create new prairies, even if they are small, but by having people make species observations of visitors to their prairies, it may help to get people interested in more of the environment and create a meme of prairie competition.

    Ideas?
  • Mar 8 2012: This concept to me is absolutely awesome and so powerful. I hadn't thought about this till date, but upon reading this I realized how memes have played a huge role in my own personal life. When I recently moved to Eugene and started attending University of Oregon, my one and only goal in life at that point was to get my degree. I never thought of life outside or beyond that, moreover, I never thought of life beyond myself. As selfish as that sounds. I cannot describe to you how much my life has changed since when I first set foot into Eugene. I started to notice numerous recycling bins which I can tell you from personal experience were not as available a couple of years ago. I began to recycle as I noticed other around me being so cautious. Soon, I was working for the E.N.R. (Environmental Natural Resource) department at the U.O. Law School which led me deeper into this field. Before I knew it, I had transformed majorly in my lifestyle and was persuading others to do the same. To me it took more than one meme for me to follow and learn this new lifestyle, but nevertheless it was memes that have led me today to be this environmentally aware person. What worked for me were numerous internet resources but, my biggest influences came from my peers. So how can we utilize the power of memes to educate and spread sustainable practices? By becoming strong memes ourselves. If your one single action is able to change just one other person, just know that it does not stop there. When you think you've reached one, you've really reached an innumerable number of humans beings.
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    Mar 8 2012: Referring to the question of whether memes are important for survival, it seems like we, as a society have come this far due to memes and without them we could have not. The ability to make fire and the invention of the wheel are two examples that have shaped our society. Therefore, I truly believe that now memes can be used to promote sustainable living and equality. In fact, memes may be the only way to achieve these elements. It seems like people who have made a significant difference have been inspire by others who did similar work, and since memes are ideas/behaviors that are passed on my imitation, then people are more likely to engage in sustainable practices the more they see others engage in it.
    • Mar 8 2012: We are at a pivotal point in human history where memes have a major influence on the future of the planet. Since we are focusing on the impact memes have on combating environmental degradation, we must consider the extent to which these memes must go to be effective without being burdensome on the public. The meme in defense of sustainability must make sustainability seem like an attractive and advantageous route for the potential meme user. It is amazing to consider how quickly memes spread in the right hands, or the wrong ones. Take celebrities for example. They spread memes of fashion, quotation, and ideology to millions because of their charisma and notoriety. If sustainability were on the forefront of their agenda, then it is likely that it will be on the forefront of the viewers' agendas. Paradoxically, many of us see celebrities as unable to be sustainable taking into account their generally lavish lifestyles. The same goes for many prominent figures in our society. This means that other role models may need to step up and lead by example in order for sustainability to be successful.
    • Mar 8 2012: I think that is a really good point. Human society is here because of us mimicking each other and abandoning the ideas that don't work. The environmental/resource situation is getting so bad that if the next couple generations don't come up with a new way of consuming or living that works, humanity is going to take a turn for the worse. Every meme that humans have created, in essence, has been an experiment. They have all worked for a time, but it is getting to be the age where our technologies (our memes) are getting to be too much for us to handle and we are starting to become owned by them, we couldn't live if they stopped working tomorrow. Soon we will have to abandon some of these technologies, and add them to the other ideas that have ultimately failed. Western society should resort to a simpler, or at least different, way of living. We are now seeing the long term consequences of settling down from a nomadic life (a meme that today has spread to almost all human cultures). Unless we come up with an idea that is scalable and spreadable to counteract resource scarcity and over consumption, memes might be what made our species great and also what ultimately killed us off.
      • Mar 8 2012: I completely agree with your last statement. It's very likely that memes will be the end of us. Unless, we turn that idea around and use these memes to save ourselves. I don't know if anyone else has experienced this but the most powerful memes that I have come across in the context of sustainability have been very "earthy", nature driven. As in the meme, to me, describes a lifestyle that is much simpler. A life style that we may have experienced in the past. So, maybe instead of moving forward our society needs to move in retrograde in order to conserve what we may have left now.
  • Mar 8 2012: Memes are powerful because for the most part they are simple images that hold a good about of power. Take religious memes for example, a simple cross can make a religious person very passionate because it means a lot to them. I think that a good sustainable meme is one that has quality background information to it, one that people feel inspired when they see it.
    • Mar 8 2012: I completely agree with you. To think of memes in a religious light really exhibits the impact a small symbol or action can have on an enormous population. Which is exactly why in order to make our current generation more aware of our ecological crisis memes seem to be the perfect weapon. We require a meme that is just as powerful and effective as a "simple" cross.
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    Mar 8 2012: Every year, a pair of popular vlogging brothers, appropriating called "the vlogbrothers" arrange what is called the "Project for Awesome." The idea is that for one day, a bunch of vloggers will get together and make videos talking about their favorite charities and then everyone participating with like and comment and favorite these videos so that they can reach the "most popular" section on youtube. I think this is a really good example of how the internet community can come together and use their meme creation and replication skills to promote good ideas and people and organizations around the world that are putting these good ideas into action. In the world of the internet, memes are replicating and spreading much faster than I think they have in the past and if sustainability can join the ranks of other widespread internet memes, I think it can find a way to truly take hold in our everyday lives.
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      Mar 8 2012: On the "Project for Awesome" note, I think that using youtube and other internet mediums to spread awareness about social issues is great and being able to use something like the vblogging brothers to shine light to charities is great. This also reminds me of the recent Kony 2012 meme that is having such increased popularity. It is aimed at spreading awareness about the children suffering from the LRA in Uganda and seeks for Joseph Koni, the head of this problem to be stopped. The campaign has made a video and is spreading quickly around the country to get public attention. Te campaign is spreading the idea of ending conflict by the promotion of lasting peace and they are using fliers, facebook, twitter, FM radio broadcasts means of communication to spread the word. Now everyone that sees the posters of the elephant and donkey sharing the same head , know taht it is talking about the Koni campaign and that it is representing democrat and republican parties coming together and standing as one in this issue. Now there are even shirts that have that picture and says "One thing we can all agree on".
      This is why I think this is a great example of how we can use memes for the greater good of the people and our society. We are observing now more and more people stand up for issues they believe in and take action into their own hands.
      • Mar 8 2012: I thought I'd be the first to mention the Kony meme, but you posted this while I was writing my response!
        Perhaps the "great minds think alike" meme is true?
  • Mar 8 2012: There was some brief talk earlier in this conversation about how memes are a way to spark social connections. I agree, memes could be a way that the most different of people can connect. Almost like a common ground between people that could come from very different cultures or backgrounds. If memes could connect drastically different people to a common place then perhaps memes could be used in some sort of conflict resolving way. Conflicts are best resolved when all parties of the issue can come to a common conclusion. I am not saying that the meme should be the solution or an answer to a problem, but it can assist in breaking that icy feel of an issue. Finding common ground, common interests, common disinterests, or common ideas is the best way for people the most unsuspecting situations to connect.
  • Mar 8 2012: Kevin allocca has a ted talk on viral videos that is quite relevant to this discussion! Tastemakers, like celebrities, community participation, and unexpectedness or uniqueness, were all components of successful viral videos. These were all things we mentioned for how to make sustainability go viral as well!
    • Mar 8 2012: Tastemakers are definitely key to determining what memes would be successful. It seems like other popular trends in our society, sustainability is now on the front line. In order for this meme to be spread it needs to continue to be fashionable and appealing to the masses. An article in Bloomberg Business Week discusses this topic. Is sustainable technology a fad or innovative? Much of the discussion is whether or not green initiatives deliver "real value," or if they will fade away soon. I think that the real value that must accompany a successful spread to sustainability is the intrinsic value that most people seek, either consciously, or subconsciously.
    • Mar 8 2012: I think it's also important when thinking about how to make sustainability go viral to think about how to make this idea long lasting. Among the enormous list of things that qualify as memes-from religion to the I Can Haz Cheeseburger cat- there are many (like religion) that have lasted for thousands of years, while there are also plenty (like the cheeseburger cat) that no one will remember a decade from now.

      Achieving sustainability as a culture is likely going to be a multi-generational project. In order to build a message that has that type of staying power I'm not sure if we want to look to internet memes for guidance.
  • Mar 8 2012: Memes are definitely an important factor in our survival because they are simply in everything we do or see. We take a meme and interpret it in our own way and find a way to apply it to our lives. As we pass these memes onto another individual they too can take what they need from it or apply it to something in their lives or simply relate to it. I think that what you do with that meme determines whether or not it will be taken to the extreme or simply put to the side. A way that you can apply it to sustainability is find a way to relate to the masses. Simple things such as hilarious sarcastic youtube videos seem to be a hit right now, so instead of going a serious route with the meme you can reach a response with what might be 'popular' in today's society. A meme can inspire a passionate response to sustainability if people are able to relate to it on a personal level.
    • Mar 8 2012: I think relating to sustainability on a personal level really hits home a lot of what some people have been talking about,as far as ways to really make a meme spread. But would making a silly video really inspire people to action? Would they take it seriously enough to take the kind of action that is necessary for global change? Even if it means personal sacrifice? Maybe we need something even more powerful than memes...
      • Mar 8 2012: Memes aren't only silly images or silly videos. They are ideas that can be shared and copied. I think you're right; we need something that really hits home to inspire people to move towards sustainability on a global scale. Memes can definitely achieve this; the idea that they represent can be shared so rapidly in this day and age, and a really powerful idea can transcend the media (video, image, etc.) in which it is presented. We just need to find the right idea and the right way to present this idea so that people can relate to it and feel compelled to change.
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    Mar 8 2012: I would like to offer a little concern about how "we harness the power of memes to inspire". I saw Dr. Dennett's talk (thanks for bringing it to my attention) and I remember him making it a point to mention that memes were 'benign' and 'aviriluous' - or something like that. He also talked about the problems of mis-interpretation/application of memes by people and the different cultural interpretations of the memes themselves. He said we must be concerned with the 'memes we put out there', but also said they were 'benign' - so i was a little confused with that. Anyway, what I'm concerned about is if memes are 'benign'', and we use them to 'inspire', are we actually attempting to use benign memes to our advantage, all in the name of our interpretation of what is good? This begins to appear to be a very subtle form of 'suggestion' (to be delicate) for me. I agree with the Dr. that memes are benign. I believe that each individual attaches their personal interpretation of the meme to it and chooses the intensity of their response to it. So it's not the memes, or the ideas, that cause the violent reactions to them. It is the people that do, through their personal choices - whether those choices were made freely, or were forced upon them politically, or were formed around limited exposure to knowledge. So I offer to this conversation that it is futile, and dangerous, to use memes as a form of suggestion. As the Dr. explained, that's been done many times before. I see that we can only try to clarify our interpretation of them and present them to others as such, and try to improve our understanding of what they're hearing so we can communicate more effectively, and get their 'buy-in'. Otherwise, they may compare the meme to the result and feel somewhat duped if it didn't turn out as expected, for whatever reason. Then, the violence comes. I guess I don't believe memes are 'viral', they're interpreted. Thanks for the interesting question/conversation.
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      Mar 8 2012: This is a good point. Memes are benign, and its how individuals react that can bring about violence. Another thing about Dennett's talk that I though was interesting was when he brings up memes that are "in competition with one another" (I think he uses capitalism and communism as examples because you cannot be both of these since capitalism by definition excludes communism and vice versa). Sustainability and the Industrial Revolution seem to in competition with one another. Going back to your comment, I'm wondering if people might be more prone to react violently when memes are in competition with one another. If a person is infected with a meme that excludes becoming infected by another (e.g. a specific religion) perhaps the person is more likely to react. Is why politics and religion are common sources of debate?
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        Mar 9 2012: Thanks for responding Holly, and Ashley, but I'm really struggling with the concept of a meme being 'infectious', and equating it to a virus. That implies, to me, that I cannot prevent its effect on me. Not that it hasn't 'attacked my system', but that I have no defense. The ant wasn't 'told' by other ants to run up and down the leaf, it was deformed by a creature and had no further will of its own. Thanks again.
    • Mar 8 2012: I agree that memes are interpreted, but they go viral in the sense that they spread quickly and impact a large number of people. What that meme translates into for each person might be different, bu nonetheless it is reaching them Iin some way. I agree that we need to mprove people's general perception and perspective on things like sustainability, so that when the meme reaches them, they can be infected by it and transmit it to others.
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    Mar 8 2012: I agree with what many people have been saying about how for a meme related to sustainability to work, that it needs to be something where people can see a change happen. There are 2 other things that I think it would also need to be. First, I think that it would have to be something fun for people to do and second, I think that it's something that, for lack of a better word, needs to be "sexy". A sustainability meme would have to be enticing and something that the general public would consider to be desirable. Plenty of people acknowledge that they care about the planet, or local environment, but that same number of people don't go out on a regular basis to do restoration, or clean-up type projects. For a meme on sustainability to work it needs to be fun, show fast results, be fun, and "sexy".
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    Mar 8 2012: Memes are naturally occurring and emergent. One way of allowing them to be more free and carry through more communities is to dismantle the mainstream, corporate media outlets all together.
  • Mar 8 2012: As memes are themselves sustainable only in so far as the requisite biological structure exists to create, promote and be taken over by, them, so it is that the continued existence of humanity is tied inextricably to the sustainability of memes themselves. Therefore, while ideas which promote sustainability are worth pursuing, I think it is a raising of social human consciousness to the notion that we and the world around us are the ideas put into practice, that each and every action, every meme put into play and carried forth is the manifestation of our oneness with creative energy and therefore of environment in total. Rather than a distancing involved in which ideas or memes are considered things external to the source, so a growing appreciation for their intimate connection with us can be pushed to create an awareness of the cosmic, some may say spiritual, quality of our memetic connection with the universe. Sustainability then becomes not an idea to find ways to promote it, but an innate notion that pervades our very being, constantly brought into clarity with every utterance and behavior.
  • Mar 8 2012: I think this is a really great idea. The use of memes to promote sustainability has the potential to spread the ideas that have potential to be important to the greater population or environment. I think the key in making these successful is, like Rishi states, the focus on how we, personally, can gain from being sustainable. It is hard for some people to think into the future, and understand how we need to act now so we can prosper later, so the focus of memes that we want to pass on needs to be on the “I”. This is especially true in places were sustainability is commonly forgotten, such as in the developing world. People of high standing are more consumed with “survivability,” and solving short problems, and are not so focused on the future. The questions “how can I gain from this?” or, “what does this do for me?” or “why should I care right now?” are the focus of these people. I think it is a hard task to conquer to make those who are focused on instant gratification to think out of the scope, and into the future. It will take some creative minds!
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    Mar 7 2012: Trying to find a way in which we can utilize memes to encourage sustainability is a difficult task to undertake. All memes that survive are the ones that possess some form of utility. Memes need to be useful, ideas such as fire, the wheel, the ramp, have all lasted so long because they are useful. Now, I'm not going to say that sustainability isn't useful, but utility has to be perceived. We have seen the uses of fire, it gave us cooked meals withing hours. The wheel made it so traveling to Rome now took weeks instead of months. Sustainability has very little perceived utility. It sounds messed up, but we hope sustainability will help the world in 80 years.

    The idea of sustainability encompasses so much more than recycling and monitoring our carbon output. If we continue our current course, we PREDICT the world will be this way blah blah blah. If we adapt the Kyoto Protocol, we PREDICT we can reduce our carbon emissions by this much yadda yadda yadda. These predictions can help us determine the current state of our affairs, but they don't show us an effect until years down the road. Its hard for me to monitor the effects I am putting on the environment, I have no idea how much progress I am making. At least in Ancient Egypt, when the were building the Pyramids, they could see what they were doing, and reach their goal.

    So for us to utilize memes to encourage sustainability, we need to discover its utility. So me the progress I can make toward sustainability so I can monitor my progress. Show me how useful sustainability it for my life. Find a way to incorporate the memes video games have employed to encourage the population to track their progress, and maximize their efforts (minimizing impact in this case). Show me the short term utility so I am encouraged to strive for the long term sustainability.
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      Mar 7 2012: Yes, I agree I think sustainability seems "too boring", it would pay off to make it more fun. A possible video game: FarmVille global style? Do you think people would stay up late to save a continent from overpopulation like they did to harvest their strawberries? Or maybe a carbon footprint tracker for a ipod application?
      • Mar 8 2012: I love this idea! People love to play games, and it motivates them to win! And I think Rishi is totally correct - people want to see payoff for their efforts. If we could find some way to make sustainability an attractive, fun, and cooperative effort that people gets better as more people join (similar to the concept of social networking), I feel like this meme could really catch on!
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          Mar 8 2012: In terms of economics, an easy way to do this would be to make sustainable options the cheaper ones to take, that is a direct utility to current society. For example, take hybrid cars. Every car comes with a giant sticker on it that says how many miles per gallon it gets. These hybrid cars have a direct advantage over traditional gas guzzlers. It saves me money.

          If we can somehow find a way to make recycling the cheaper alternative to garbage disposal services, or solar power became the cheaper alternative to coal power, then we can spread the idea of sustainability.
  • Mar 7 2012: Memes thorough images are the most primitive and effective ways of communication across time and cultures.
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    Mar 7 2012: For me the two most poignant words are not sustainability but "Open Source" why? well no system can take it and reroute it.
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    Mar 7 2012: Something that comes to mind is this picture. http://blogs.nsb.org/jonathanalexander/files/2010/10/soil.jpg

    When I think attainable sustainability practices, this picture is what gives me hope. Even though deforestation is still happening, glaciers are depleting, and species are dieing off; this picture reminds me humankind can make a difference. And this difference is the ability to grow plants. Even if it is the smallest flower or the largest tree, we as a species are capable of healing the planets loses. Jane Goodall once said, "What you do makes a difference, and you have to decide what kind of difference you want to make.”

    Jane is one of the few scientists who believe we can still save the planet, only if we change our ways and become more sustainable as a species.
    Jane herself spreads memes all the time. More specifically, her Roots and Shoots program. The Roots & Shoots program is about making positive change happen not just for people, but for animals and for the environment. With tens of thousands of young people in more than 120 countries, the Roots & Shoots network connects youth of all ages who share a desire to create a better world.
    I find Jane and her Roots and Shoots program a powerful meme that can be replicated all around the world by youth who are determined to make a better world.
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      Mar 7 2012: Molly, that image is great! I agree that its really important to create popularity in a meme in youth.
    • Mar 8 2012: The purpose of a meme is to draw the attention of its viewers to a point where it causes a reaction, is shared with another person, or at least weighs on the mind of its viewer. This is a perfect example of an effective meme. This is a powerful image because it grabs the attention of the viewer. This image can be combined with an array of messages like "green" living or environmentally sustainable efforts and has the potential to be shared quickly.
  • Mar 7 2012: I think that is a great point Brant. Words and their associations are very important to take into consideration, when thinking about powerful ideas that are going to ultimately be expressed through words, even if it also contains symbols and/or cultural expressions.
    I would lie to see how people think we could make the meme of sustainability more attractive, in that it becomes more popular and spreads more quickly. Would it be through choosing the right words, symbols, or expressions? Or is there another method that would be more important?
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    Mar 7 2012: You asked "How can we harness the power of memes to inspire notions of patriotism, freedom, and justice that elicit a passionate response for the cause of sustainability, rather than a passionate response that leads to conflict?"
    What I want to know is: Isn't this brainwashing of sorts? Doesn't i go against first amendment rights? You say it is for sustainability and to get rid of conflict, but isn't that the same argument that has been made warring countries, terrorists, and so many others? Even though you want it through a somewhat subliminal method, isn't it still a hostile takeover of the mind?
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      Mar 7 2012: I feel like this is a hard question to answer depending on notions of freedom, patriotism and justice. I think it would depend on how we answered this question: Can we think of a case in which the ideas of freedom, patriotism, and justice within a country are not a form of brainwashing?

      If so, then I believe sustainability could be propagated without considering it a "hostile takeover".

      If not, then is there a case for justifying "sustainability propaganda?"
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        Mar 7 2012: Freedom, patriotism and justice vary from person to person, so making it a conformed definition is brainwashing, so for your response to my reply, I would have to go with the case of where it is not so. So, as you said it becomes sustainability propaganda, but it would be much more pointed that just propaganda. It would be more of a subliminal propaganda, which people don't know how to defend themselves from, whereas, regular propaganda they know how to deal with and accept/reject.
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          Mar 8 2012: I think, with regards to sustainability, the key to propagation is going to be some above board method. I don't think propaganda or subliminal trickery are the tickets to this meme's success. Rather, I agree with what a lot of people are saying-that if sustainability can be boiled down into a simple image or symbol or phrase that finds a way to take hold in the internet "mind" and resonate with people then it has the potential to spread quickly and successfully.
    • Mar 7 2012: While that is a valid point I think it should be taken into consideration that memes are generally viral and uncontrollable in nature and propaganda is usually controlled at the beginning. Memes pop out anywhere and there are always multiple versions of it.
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        Mar 7 2012: But in this case, the memes would be controlled and would therefore become propaganda by the government or what ever group controls it
        • Mar 7 2012: The question was "how do we harness the power of memes" and not necessarily control it. I guess it's a matter of how we take the question. If you'd rather take the point of harnessing the power of memes through education of the people or at least perspective then it doesn't fall under propaganda
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        Mar 7 2012: In response to the two previous posts. What if we just asked "how can we make the meme of sustainability more exciting"? If we phrased the question this way would it still evoke the same connection to propaganda as the original question posed?
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          Mar 7 2012: The connection would have been weak in that situation
    • Mar 8 2012: I had a similar reaction - the first thought that came to mind my mind was how similar memes are to propaganda. Propaganda can be loosely defined as a form of communication that is aimed at influencing the mindset of people towards a specific cause or position, and images or video memes can be used to easily propagate a specific idea.

      But honestly does it even matter? No. Corporations, social and political organizations, and media networks constantly try to influence people through subliminal messages and advertising. People have shown that they have the mental fortitude to act on their own convictions and not be "brainwashed" by what they see or hear; they do so everyday. Memes have already been in existence for a very long time, the recent internet phenomenon of images being used to convey thematic messages is a very narrow definition of a "meme". Memes are a great way to spread awareness and inspire ideas of sustainability because they draw attention through their imagery. The KONY 2012 video that has gone viral over social networks like facebook and twitter is a prime example of a meme that has spread awareness of a situation in Africa. While the video itself has a particular intent, the viewer has total control over how he or she responds to the video. All that has happened is that the viewer has become aware of a particular situation, and that is the benefit of using memes.

      Taking advantage of this tool does not imply that the community will suddenly be "brainwashed" into mindless adherents who are not acting on their own volition.