A “meme” is a cultural idea that behaves a bit like a virus. A host – that could be you or me – picks up the meme, is “infected” by it, and then communicates it to others. Of course, ideas have long spread in this “contagious” or “viral” manner, but “meme” theory has gained currency as a way of describing how this happens online, where ideas propagate with unprecedented rapidity. Bizarre crazes can now boil across the surface of the planet before you can say “LOLcats”.
These memes are the subject of Gee Thomson’s ambitious and unusual book Mesmerization. Thomson’s position is that the proliferation of available information sources and the collapse of faith in authorities such as the traditional media and scientists has left us uniquely suggestible.