In my experience witnessing the propagation of memes that deal primarily with the intersection of the Web, technology, and culture, I’ve found there are four basic groups of people involved (I’m generalizing *a lot* here):
- Those who read a lot of Web sites, keep up on the latest happenings, subscribe to a wide variety of mailing lists, and generally immerse themselves in online culture and technology. These folks are usually among the first to find out about stuff. I’m in this category.
- Mass media like network television, radio, cable television, magazines, etc.
- Those folks who use the Web in a casual way for work or pleasure. They are usually interested in these types of memes, but don’t actively seek them out, for one reason or another. Most co-workers I’ve had fit into this category.
- Those who use the Web very occasionally, mostly for news and such. They are generally not interested in this type of meme and only hear about them through happenstance or via mass media. My parents fit into this category.
Here are some recent Web-related memes and their associated timelines of infections into the groups listed above:
- Napster: The first version of Napster was publicly released sometime between January and May 1999. I heard about Napster from Matt’s article on evolt.org around the middle of November 1999. The first News.com article about Napster was published on December 7, 1999…I would imagine that any TV or major radio coverage started much later. My co-workers heard about it a few months later, perhaps in February or March. My parents probably heard of Napster fairly recently, due to all the press coverage of the RIAA trial.
- The Hamster Dance: I found out about this site via a mailing list approx. 1-2 months after it was launched before it had migrated to its own domain name. My co-workers discovered it 2 or 3 months later…much office merriment ensued. A few months ago, I saw a TV commercial for Earthlink that featured the Hamster Dance. I’m not sure if either of my parents have seen it…I’m thinking my dad probably has.
- The Superfriends version of Wassup: I can’t exactly remember how I found out about this one. I probably saw it on a weblog, probably soon after it was released to the Web (this one spread quickly). My co-workers discovered it right after I did because I told them about it. The Wassup parody meme came to the attention of the major news organizations when someone did an Elian version of Wassup and were threatened with a lawsuit by the Associated Press. My parents may or may not have heard of the whole phenomenon because of that news coverage.
- ICQ: I was late in hearing about this one. My dad was fairly early in discovering it…his ICQ number is in the 300,000s. I heard of it around when they had a few million users, later than most of my peer group. My co-workers probably heard of it right around when they got bought by AOL, when they had 12 million users. Major news coverage of ICQ commenced around then as well, but I don’t think it has been covered that much outside of the technology sphere (news.com, etc.).
- Soda Constructor: This is a very minor meme, but worth mentioning anyway. I found out about this from Metafilter, my co-workers discovered it two weeks later, and as far as I know, it never got any mainstream media coverage, nor did my parents ever see it.
It would be interesting to track the pace of meme transmission…and the speed at which transmission seems to be increasing. The difficulty in doing so is not knowing what to keep track of. When I see things, I can’t really tell the difference between meme-worthy & non-meme-worthy material…I’m more of an unwitting participant than trend spotter.