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Showing 1-2 of 2 reviews(Verified Purchases). See all 3 reviews
on October 22, 2013
This is an academic book on internet memes. Shifman argues that scientists should pay more attention to the enormous outpouring of memes online - in the wake of the 2011 explosion of internet memes. The author covers internet meme classification, why some internet memes succeed and others fail, the political impact of internet memes, and many other topics. Her angle on the topic is mostly from cultural studies - readers interested in the evolutionary biology of culture should look elsewhere. Many internet memes are treated in some detail, with some emphasis on funny ones.

Probably the most controversial part of the book is its definition of internet memes. There has always been some tension between usage of the term "internet meme" to refer to popular works, and classical memetics - which usually considers any socially transmitted piece of culture to be a meme. Richard Dawkins has referred to the internet's "hijacking" of the "meme" term. In classical memetics, "internet meme" would usually refer to a meme that is spread online. However, this book proposes that we take more seriously the idea that "Millhouse is not a meme" - by adopting a definition of "internet meme" that takes account of popularity. The author goes on to use the term "meme" as an abbreviation for her concept of "internet meme" for much of the book. Besides common usage of the "internet meme" term, there are some factors that suggest frequency is significant. For example, G.C. Williams once offered a frequency-dependent definition of a *gene* - saying: "In this book I use the term gene to mean 'that which segregates and recombines with appreciable frequency'".

However, I can't say I'm convinced by Shifman's proposed terminology. I think that "internet meme" should refer to a meme that is transmitted over the internet. If people want to use the term as an abbreviation for "popular internet meme", then that's fine - but treating "internet meme" as a technical term that conflicts with most conventional definitions of the term "meme" seems to be an approach that fails to take proper account of other users of the term to me.

Shifman takes a few other jabs at memetics, for instance claiming that by seeking cultural phenotypes and genotypes pushes the analogy with genetics too far. However, she offers no more specific criticism of *why* this is a mistake. I think that cultural phenotypes and genotypes are fine. Indeed, distinguishing between heritable information and its products is very helpful - and if your preferred theory of cultural evolution lacks basic concepts like "phenotypes" and "genotypes" then you are probably not taking your cultural Darwinism seriously enough.

Alas, this book is really rather a brief primer on the topic of internet memes. The last chapter offers an overview of future directions in internet meme research.
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on August 11, 2016
Very informative
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