Life-Cycle of a Meme
A meme is virtually immortal. The Life-span of a meme depends on several criteria. In the definition that is used in this research, the aspect of selection is also considered. The selection process of memes is what will determine their longevity. A meme which is frequently selected for replication will find more hosts and will have a larger ‘offspring’ than a meme which resides within one host and is only very rarely selected for replication and transmission. Seth Godin calls this measure of how fast a meme can spread its “velocity” (Unleashing the Ideavirus 33).
When the field of marketing became interested in memetics, they tried to define the criteria to create a good meme in order to use these criteria to help create “Marketing Epidemics” and improve marketing strategies. According to Godin, “an ideavirus adores a vacuum” (28). It will be easier for a meme to be spread if there is not already a certain idea that embodies the same information that is contained in the meme. He gives the example of a search engine such as Yahoo! that could easily fit in to the new internet and fill up the vacuum there was in the lack of a structured search engine; the same goes for Amazon, eBay and Hotmail (Godin 63). The names have become buzz-words and are now well known to almost all internet users.
Next to the idea of the vacuum in the market, he also proposes two new criteria for memes; the velocity and the smoothness factor. The velocity refers to the speed the meme spreads, the smoothness is the factor that describes how easy it is for a meme to spread. In the case of viral marketing the memes propagate themselves, in other cases, especially in web-related memes; there is an easy way to spread the meme to other hosts. Websites use techniques such as buttons that allow you to “send this page to a friend” or will add in a self referring message in emails sent through the specific website (e.g. Hotmail) (Godin 33/64).
Once a meme has found a host, there are different selection processes at work. Heylighen described four selection phases for memes: ‘Assimilation, Retention, Expression and Transmission’ (1998). During each of these stages there is a striving of multiple memes to be the one that will be selected and within each of these stages memes must try to stay in the host instead of being pushed out of the way by another meme. These phases will be discussed more in depth in the chapter on memetic selection.