Assessing global diffusion with Web memetics: The spread and evolution of a popular joke

Assessing global diffusion with Web memetics: The spread and evolution of a popular joke

Limor Shifman, Mike Thelwall

Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology, Volume 60 Issue 12, Pages 2567 – 2576 doi:10.1002/asi.2118

To explore this potential and to evaluate the proposed method for examining it – Web memetics – one widely circulated joke about men, women, and computers was chosen.

Dear Tech Support:
Last year I upgraded from Girlfriend 7.0 to Wife 1.0. I soon noticed that the new program began unexpected child processing that took up a lot of space and valuable resources. In addition, Wife 1.0 installed itself into all other programs and now monitors all other system activity. Applications such as PokerNight 10.3, Football 5.0, Hunting and Fishing 7.5, and Racing 3.6 no longer run, crashing the system whenever selected. []

– – – Reply – – –

Dear Troubled User:

This is a very common problem about which men are complaining.

Many people upgrade from Girlfriend 7.0 to Wife 1.0, thinking that it is just a Utilities and Entertainment program. Wife 1.0 is an OPERATING SYSTEM and is designed by its Creator to run EVERYTHING!!! It is also impossible to delete Wife 1.0 and to return to Girlfriend 7.0. It is impossible to uninstall, or purge the program files from the system once installed. []

(Retrieved March 3, 2009, from [ndb #14135])

Memes are small units of culture, analogous to genes, which flow from person to person by copying or imitation. More than any previous medium, the Internet has the technical capabilities for global meme diffusion. Yet, to spread globally, memes need to negotiate their way through cultural and linguistic borders. This article introduces a new broad method, Web memetics, comprising extensive Web searches and combined quantitative and qualitative analyses, to identify and assess: (a) the different versions of a meme, (b) its evolution online, and (c) its Web presence and translation into common Internet languages. This method is demonstrated through one extensively circulated joke about men, women, and computers. The results show that the joke has mutated into several different versions and is widely translated, and that translations incorporate small, local adaptations while retaining the English versions’ fundamental components. In conclusion, Web memetics has demonstrated its ability to identify and track the evolution and spread of memes online, with interesting results, albeit for only one case study.

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