Sunday, 12 August 2012


What are hypermemes? Hypermemes are the cultural equivalent of hyperparasites. Hyperparasites are parasites that infect other parasites. So, similarly, hypermemes are memes that propagate themselves by using other memes.

Computer viuruses are one obvious example. The computer virus named after the sexy tennis star, Anna Kournikova (see picture to the right) was an example of one meme piggy-backing on another one.

The phenomenon of hyperparasites is quite common and well-known. Malaria infects blood-sucking mosquitos; Lyme disease infects blood-sucking tics - and so on.

Hypermemes are closely related to memetic hitchhiking. They are also closely related to memejacking.

When borrowing terminology from generalised epidemiology there's often a dilemma - regarding whether the implications of parasitism are appropriate.

In this case, I think it is pretty clear that they are not. Hypermemes need not necessarily be deleterious to their host memes - any more than ordinary memes are necessarily deleterious to their host humans.

One interesting phenomenon associated with hyperparasites is that the parasites who are themselves parasitized often become more "bitey". Mosquitoes infected with malaria bite more frequently. This is because their behaviour is being manipulated by their own parasites - who typically care a lot about how many victims are bitten - and not very much about activities relating to mating and reproduction by their mosquito hosts.

While the same dynamics can happen with cultural evolution, this situation is not very common. Memes seem more likely to join with other memes to make a composite creature with shared reproducitve ends. The reasons for this difference are interesting to ponder.

No comments:

Post a Comment