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 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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