In this edition of Guy Clinch's podcast series on NoJitter, Guy takes an amusing stab at how ideas propagate based upon the concept of the meme first described by evolutionary biologist, Richard Dawkins.
Guy muses on how concepts evolve in the communications industry.
In his 1976 book, The Selfish Gene, evolutionary biologist, Richard Dawkins defined the concept of a meme by referring to an idea, behavior or style, "a unit of cultural transmission, or a unit of imitation." He wrote that in a similar way to genes, which are the reproducing entity of information describing components of life on a strand of DNA, memes are notions that replicate across what others have called the "Ideosphere."
Memes are today propelled by the fluidity of global networks. The Internet Meme, a distinct genre, ranges from more or less profound to amusements such as: the Dancing Baby, "Jump the Shark," Yosemitebear Mountain Double Rainbow (40 million YouTube views) and cats, cats and more cats. In the communications industry, memes are more serious and no less common.
In every industry ideas emerge that take on a virility. Like recombinant life, sometimes an idea mutates and evolves into a lasting and occasionally transformational concept or technology. The concepts behind Ethernet evolved into packet switching; the client server model evolved into Web services; making a distinction between the once completely independent concepts of voice and data is becoming irrelevant (a packet is a packet no matter the payload). Despite the potential for hype, few of these transitions happen overnight.
Concepts often become mememonic before the notion itself reaches maturity. Hype often preceded fruition. Think about how long we have heard of the promises for Communications Enabled Business Processes (CEBP).
There can be help. For 20 years Gartner has provided a tool to, "Cut through the vendor and popular hype to determine if a product or service is right ... in both the short-term and the long-term."
Sometimes it takes a catalyzing event or adjunct idea to bring a concept from mememony to actuality. In 2013 I interviewed Pat Shafer, who is currently the VP of Marketing at Agile Software, during which she talked about how the technology ISDN went from then meme-ing, "It Still Does Nothing," to viability with the development of Computer Telephony Integration (CTI).
Smithsonian Magazine states that, "Memes can replicate with impressive virulence while leaving swaths of collateral damage--patent medicines and psychic surgery, astrology and satanism, racist myths, superstitions and (a special case) computer viruses," are examples. In technology industries we may remember the intense hype investments in the OS/2, token ring networking, prospects for the long-term viability of the Blackberry Enterprise Server and other attention grabbers that suffered descent.
Memes have an epidemiology. Some start with a raging fever, some go into remission only to reemerge, some fester, some erupt and some simply fade away. Whether scars left on our wallet or the emotional toll of having become psychically invested in some virulent idea, who among us in the tech industries have not incurred the lingering aftereffects of some idea that caught our imagination only to later disappoint?
Some memes come before their time and fade into tech antiquity. The challenge is to know what will be lasting. How many remember the EO Personal Communicator that, "was about to change the way you work and interact?" NOT! "We suggest that after you watch this tape ... [all 18 minutes] ... you complete the EO tutorial built into your EO ... 10 easy sessions to get you up to speed on your new EO ... the world of messaging focuses on faxes and electronic mail ..."
For us in the contemporary tech world the challenge is to know which of today's promising concepts will experience a meme-metastasis and turn into lasting innovations. From WebRTC, to Session Initiation Protocol, to Augmented Reality, to the phablet - who knows which of the concepts that spin intellectual cycles today will transform and which will become a historical footnote.
I think I will Hampster Dance on out of here, while I still have your attention.
Thank you for spending a few minutes with me.