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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 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.

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