TED Conversations

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 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.

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