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How Do Memes Start? A Case Study: 100 Books in Facebook.

A “meme” is a little chain-letter-like game that people send around the internet.  You may have heard of Facebook’s latest meme “25 Things” (that was started by users, not the Facebook staff).

Ever wonder how these memes begin?

Let’s use the 100 Book meme that is hitting Facebook this week.  It’s a good study on how memes get started, how they change over time, and how they grow.

I just caught this from FriendFeed user Mark Dykeman:

“This is one of those Facebook memes that keeps circling around the universe.  I answered it on Facebook, but since some of you might not have access to my Facebook account, I thought I’d post the results here.

‘The BBC believes the majority of people will have only read 6 of the 100 books here.
Go to your profile, choose notes, post a new note – copy and edit.

Instructions: Look at the list and put an ‘x’ after those you have read.'”

Mark goes ahead and checks off the books he’s read on the list.  It’s more than 6.  The list is below, but hang here with me for a second.

Before you get your feathers ruffled about the audacity and snobbery of the BBC, let’s take a better look at this.

I looked for the origin of the meme by checking urban-myth-busting site Snopes and the BBC website.  Snopes had nothing about how the BBC supposedly claimed that most people will have read only 6 books on the entire list.  Snopes usually catches rumors quickly, but they don’t necessarily investigate every silly Facebook meme.  Personally, I doubt the BBC would have said that, but let’s be honest:  They’ve said worse.

On the BBC site I found no quotes, articles, or any mention whatsoever about the 6 book number; I did find the BBC’s BIG READ list where they list 100 books and they ask UK’ers to vote on their favorites.  Both the list from the Facebook meme and the BBC’s Big Read list look similar.  Could they be the same list?

So I stuck them in a spreadsheet and compared.   63 of the books are shared;  37 of the books are not.

Here is the shared list (click to embiggen):

63 FB List titles on left, 63 BBC List titles on right.  This list contains exactly the same books, with titles edited.

63 FB List titles on left, 63 BBC List titles on right. This list contains exactly the same books, with titles edited.

You’ll notice some of the book titles are written slightly differently, which implies more editing by the clever meme maker (who’ll we’ll refer to as the Facebook Meme Maker -FMM) that adjusted the original BBC list.  (With the Facebook Meme’s “Harry Potter Series” entry, I just used the first Harry Potter book.  Same with “The Faraway Tree Collection.”  In a list of 100 books, it’s confusing to reference a series.)

So this table (click on it then zoom in to see better) contains the 63 shared titles.  That means 37 titles were deleted and new ones added by the Facebook Meme Maker.

Here are the remaining 37 titles from the Facebook meme next to the original 37 from BBC list (click to embiggen):

37 FB List titles on left, 37 BBC List titles on right.  The lists don't share titles.

37 FB List titles on left, 37 BBC List titles on right. The lists don’t share titles.

Seems like FMM preferred more American authors and books that were later adapted into successful movies.  Maybe FMM heard some rumor that the BBC was dissing American authors and readers and felt like putting some of her/his own favorites on the list.  Who knows?

But this meme has some of the great signs of a viral commodity:

1. The meme’s subject is elitist in that it says something about the user’s level of intelligence. (“What? You haven’t read War and Peace?!)  This fosters (usually friendly) competition amongst friends.

2. The meme has a whiff of injustice that stirs up indignance. (“How DARE the BBC say that?! GIMME THAT LIST!”)

3. Filling out / answering the meme doesn’t take much time.  “Put an X by the books you’ve read.”

4. 100 books is perfect.  A nice, big milestone number.  “16 Things” (which I filled out) didn’t take off on Facebook but “25 Things” did.  People gravitate toward milestone, lucky, and zero-ending numbers in this culture.  No-one will look at an “82 Books You Need to Read” list.  “100” grabs everyone’s attention.

The FMM probably saw the BBC list and wondered how many of the books she/he had actually read.  Out of curiosity, the FMM checked off which book titles were familiar.  Perhaps when the number of recognized titles were low, the FMM decided to add the ones she/he did in fact read.  What followed was an email or two, with bragging evidence attached, of course, to a few dozen friends on Facebook.  Voila!  A meme is born.

People who successfully ignore memes will be sucked into this one for the false academic quality of it.  It’s about traditional literacy; We all take the “How Well Read Are You?” measurement quite seriously.

I myself am trying to work on being better read.  With all the hype about how the internet and tv are melting our brains, this meme is a zinger.  It feeds all the fear surrounding the changes in our culture.  It will most likely take off and get so big that Snopes will have to post on it.

Now you know how memes like this start.  And you also know why I’m not going to be sucked in.  It’s a hoax created by a smart FMM who blended some pop culture news story from half-way across the world into a pride-ruffling insult that must be disproved immediately by the educated American masses.  Have fun with it if you like, but please don’t spread the indignant attitude.  Reading itself should be a positive and inclusive activity.


UPDATE 17 November 2010: Please read through the comments, there is a lot of new information scattered in there. Thanks.

UPDATE 22 November 2010: If you liked this article, you make like these others I’ve written about Facebook:
How IDs work in Facebook: http://www.purplecar.net/2010/02/facebookphishingscam/,

Dear Abby Talks About FB http://www.purplecar.net/2010/07/kids-with-multiple-facebook-profiles/,

Ack! My In-Laws are on FB: http://www.purplecar.net/2010/08/the-in-laws-and-facebook/

UPDATE: MARCH 1 2011 Comments on this post are now closed.

UPDATE: OCTOBER 24, 2012 This meme is still going strong. The list is changing a bit, but it is still basically the same. If you want to figure out why you or others waste so much time doing unproductive things like Facebook, you can check out this book: The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg*.

*(affiliate link)

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Simon Jerram 23 November 2010, 4:08 am

    I think the list going round at the moment is closer to this list:

    Some versions have the 6 books line and some don’t.

  • NiceGirlsDon'tSwear 24 November 2010, 6:24 am

    Agreed on all points except the definition of a meme. Memes are far beyond “little chain-letter-like game[s] that people send around the internet.” They can include images, like LOLcats or Privilege Denying Dude, videos like Star Wars kid or Rickrolling, variations on phrases (“Ur doin it rong,” “Do not want,” etc.). Really, any little bit of culture or information that is passed around in a manner that is, essentially viral in nature, and is changed or adapted by different groups.

    Great post, though, and when I first saw that list circulating on FB, it reminded me of those awful “95% won’t repost this copy/paste status update.” I doubted the BBC ever included Mitch Albom or Dan Brown on a “must-read” list.

    • PurpleCar 24 November 2010, 4:05 pm

      I have a feeling that “meme” takes on more meaning in other cultures than it
      does in the US. A meme here requires participation. Sure, people can apply the
      word “meme” to any internet fad, but they may effect questions like, “Well, what
      do you have to do with it?” An answer of “just watch it” may evoke an
      incongruous reaction. Perhaps “meme” is spreading its definition to include
      absorption-only media. Who knows. Words change.


      • Guy Swarbrick 25 November 2010, 7:42 am

        You can use ‘meme’ to mean whatever you like, of course, but it’s a semi-technical word with a specific meaning – it’s the cultural equivalent of a gene. It’s an idea subject to mutation and natural selection. Yes, Facebook lists and chain emails are memes, but memes aren’t Facebook lists and chain emails.


      • Alli 2 December 2010, 1:35 pm

        Memes in the US don’t require participation! 🙂 The All Your Base Are Belong to Us meme in 2000 was a fantastic example of that. Of course there’s always a degree of participation because the phrase/video clip needs to be repeated by someone, but it doesn’t really fit the definition of a game by passing it on. Semantics, I know! Guy’s description of the cultural equivalent to a gene is actually pretty spot on.

        This is a good site for understanding what a meme is through content instead of technical definition: http://knowyourmeme.com/

      • Ben King 24 February 2011, 3:00 pm

        Oh man that definition up top of meme makes me bristle. In one hundred years time cultural evolution through memetic, or whatever the fuck you wanna call it, will be recognised as significant as genetic evolution; it is what makes us, us.

        Without memes there would be no identity. We would be animals of pure instinct. Memes are all human-made products, all language, all artifacts, all culture. They are the basis for our morality, the vehicle of our progression, the network from which History emerges. When shared, they are what give us our humanity; when not, our inhumanity.

        Dawkins name will go down with Darwin’s as the two most influential individuals to avow and propogate evolutionary ideas. Once humanity comes to understand the power of the meme, the will simultaneously understand the conceptual darkness humanity has suffered under, the false notions of the self, the soul and external, interpretable moral codes born of a time of memetic darkness, where the ‘other’ prowled relentlessly and power was held by the few over all civilisation.

        We are now coming out of that darkness, the illusion of ‘other’ dissapating before our global eyes. We will soon recognise our true responsibilities and our true sense of self with a complex network of equal individuals.

  • Debby Brinxma 24 November 2010, 7:39 pm

    Never the less it was fun to fill in the list and to compare with others what people have read to my own list

  • Info 25 November 2010, 11:02 am

    Excellent. Thanks!

  • Linda 26 November 2010, 1:30 pm

    When this got to me, it was 99 books. OK, so I’m an English Ph.D. and had read all but about five (ones an English Ph.D. wouldn’t read). I never believed it was from the BBC, because it was, honestly, too stupid even for them. Being an Internet meme, it’s now all over my FB newsfeed, and unfortunately, I can’t hide it.
    Oh, well, the 93 books that I had read on the list, I enjoyed most.
    Thanks for this column.

  • MitchellAllen 29 November 2010, 2:38 am

    Christine, I just received a copy of this meme. I bristled a bit and decided to locate the source. Imagine this: YOU’RE the authoritative source!

    Rumor or no, I like your explanation and will remind myself of it often. It will keep my attitude adjusted.



  • dougdell 29 November 2010, 10:31 am

    Excellent analysis. I enjoyed the discussions that the “100 Books” postings generated for me on FB, for all the reasons cited. I agree with NiceGirls that you need to broaden your understanding of “meme.”

    From wikipedia: “The British scientist Richard Dawkins coined the word “meme” in The Selfish Gene (1976) as a concept for discussion of evolutionary principles in explaining the spread of ideas and cultural phenomena. Examples of memes given in the book included melodies, catch-phrases, fashion, and the technology of building arches.
    The rest of the Wikipedia article is pretty interesting – for example, mimetics is a field of study!

    • PurpleCar 29 November 2010, 2:20 pm

      Doug, thanks! Yes, perhaps I should expand my definition of meme to “any
      cultural internet phenomenon.”

      -PurpleCar Christine Cavalier

      • LK 6 December 2010, 12:17 pm

        I really appreciate the useful article on this 100 books thing, but why are you soooo reluctant to admit you are wrong on the definition of meme? It took several people to persaude you that a meme is not just a chain-mail-like, participatory internet fad, but now that you are confronted with the fact that “meme” was coined in 1976 by Richard Dawkins, all you can do is say that it means “any cultural internet phenomenon?” The internet didn’t even fully exist until the 1980’s! Read the Wikipedia article. I’m sure it won’t kill you.

        • PurpleCar 6 December 2010, 12:40 pm

          I have no idea why my definition of meme is so important to you. But I stick
          with my original thought that a meme takes some sort of participation.


          “In his 1976 best-seller The Selfish Gene, Richard Dawkins defined the word meme
          as a cultural unit of measurement – a thought, phrase, style or other cultural
          expression that can be imitated by individuals. Under this definition, all
          ideas and icons are memes. Religions are memes. The phrase, “An apple a day
          keeps the doctor away” is a meme. White supremacism [sic] is a meme. Pop
          culture, technology, philosophy and politics are made up of memes.

          The word comes from the Greek mimema, which simply means something that can be
          mimicked. Imitation is the way that memes spread. These cultural artifacts are
          simple, original ideas that often serve to establish bonds within a group. In
          Dawkins’s view, memes are the informational expression of evolution. Just as
          species develop physical traits to better adapt to their environments, so too
          do they develop complex networks of information that help them to communicate
          and ultimately survive.”

          Meme requires some sort of action. It isn’t just a phenomenon in itself.


          • Chimney Chongas 14 December 2010, 1:05 pm

            no. memes require no participation. This is the very nature of a meme – an insidious packet of thought which can infect others and spread virally without their explicit knowledge.

            There is no wiggle-room. Memes aren’t games. Memes aren’t facebook polls. Memes are none of this, although these might be memes. Do you understand?

            • PurpleCar 14 December 2010, 1:43 pm

              I disagree. Do you understand?

              • Allan 15 December 2010, 4:36 am

                As I understand it, a catchy phrase or an interesting idea could be a meme, and you can “catch” it simply by hearing it, and then it’s in your head. I don’t see this as entailing “participation” — you are passive and it lodges itself in your mind.

  • GroovFlowr 29 November 2010, 8:27 pm

    Thanks for putting this together. Last year when the bloody thing went around I did the spreadsheet comparison myself as well. These last couple of days I was glad to have your data to conveniently link to. 🙂

    I don’t mind people playing the game. And when I tell them that it’s not really a BBC list or claim, they say no one really cares. So why attribute it to a source that did not originate the current item? If you want to pass around a “how many of these have you read?” list, fine. But don’t say the BBC put the list together and said “I bet you’ve only read 6 of these” when it didn’t. Furthermore, conveniently overlooking the source verification so important in academic settings while posting something purporting to be academic on any level at all is simply ignorant. Why in Hades should I care how many books you read if you can’t do a basic search to see that the BBC did not indeed come up with the current rendition of the list?!

    • PurpleCar 29 November 2010, 10:42 pm

      I wholeheartedly agree. Why purport to be academic in your conjecture when
      you’ve not done the least bit of research? You’ve hit upon my very point of how
      the list is insidious when used in a condescending way, and only serves to
      expose the sender as a fraud. One should tread carefully in academic matters, as
      there is always a person more erudite than one in the subject. In plain words,
      don’t embarrass yourself by buying into this meme’s tone. Instead, learn to
      smell a rat in any given meme. Caveat emptor and all that.

      Another quite annoying thing is this: Let’s presume the BBC made a list of the
      100 most important books ever in the history of life. Let’s even presume that
      the BBC claims we’ve all read only 6 of these books. Who gives a shit? The BBC
      is not a consortium of the world’s top academics. And, on that note, any of us
      who are actually a part of academia knows that a consortium of academics is by
      no means a group from which you should exhort a standard of anything. My god,
      the politics alone. They’d never agree on one list of 100, or even 1000. It’s
      like asking a bunch of artists which is the best way to paint a portrait. Sure,
      there are basic art things they can agree on, like using color, tone and shape.
      But that’s where it would end. It’s the same in literature. There is no such
      thing as a 100 list, and the BBC would be far from the expert in the subject,
      don’t you think?

      I think there’s a basic distrust of media, and a general repressed outrage at
      their ridiculous claims that their readership can’t keep up with their heady
      writing. This malaise gets its outlet when an incendiary gauntlet like this meme
      is thrown down. The anger comes out and the defenses go on full display.


  • GroovFlowr 29 November 2010, 9:52 pm

    On a casual glance/skim without any real analysis, looks like the Facebook list might better mimic this one here: http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2007/mar/01/news.

    • PurpleCar 29 November 2010, 10:37 pm

      Thanks for the update. It indeed keeps changing. I think the FB meme is at least
      3 years old by now, each year seems to have new iterations of the list.


  • Wendy HB, Mountain View, CA 2 December 2010, 5:10 pm

    ThankYouThankYouThank! I could have spent days trying to figure out why the list my goddaughter sent me had ‘The Bell Jar’ where the list from a director friend had ‘The Inferno’ – although, of course, hellish experiences are common to both.

    ENNYWAY – Your explanation was greatly appreciated: I also couldn’t make sense of the ‘no more than 6 books’ in the context of the BBC website lists of 100 & 200 ‘Most Loved’ books (and nothing at Snopes, which is my Bible!)

    • PurpleCar 2 December 2010, 6:00 pm

      You’re welcome! Always a great idea to look up Snopes! They are my bible too,
      for internet memes and urban legends. It’s funny you got two lists. Maybe you
      can post them both here in the comments? Or email me at christine@purplecar.net
      and let me post the latest lists going around.


      -Christine Cavalier


  • Ilgattosilver 3 December 2010, 7:08 pm

    100 books, Italian Version… yes, there is a localized version whith some titles of Italians authors; the list is in… italian, sorry, at the end of my comment.
    In my spare time I enjoy in debunking “Saint Anthony chain letters”, memes & C.
    So, my first consideration was: no sources, no dates at all, sounds and smell like a meme. Second fact: why so many italian books in a BBC’s list? These seems not to be a problem for average italian (face)book reader.
    Indeed, the psychological mechanism is simple, I think: “I AM BETTER THAN THE BBC BELIEVES!” and this is the meme’s engine, this is why people copy&paste a list certificating their better-than-average status.

    The Italian List:
    1 Orgoglio e Pregiudizio – Jane Austen
    2 Il Signore degli Anelli – JRR Tolkien
    3 Il Profeta – Kahlil Gibran
    4 Harry Potter – JK Rowling
    5 Se questo è un uomo – Primo Levi
    6 La Bibbia
    7 Cime Tempestose– Emily Bronte
    8 1984– George Orwell
    9 I Promessi Sposi – Alessandro Manzoni
    10 La Divina Commedia – Dante Alighieri
    11 Piccole Donne – Louisa M Alcott
    12 Lessico Familiare – Natalia Ginzburg
    13 Comma 22 – Joseph Heller
    14 L’opera completa di Shakespeare
    15 Il Giardino dei Finzi Contini – Giorgio Bassani
    16 Lo Hobbit – JRR Tolkien
    17 Il Nome della Rosa – Umberto Eco
    18 Il Gattopardo – Tommasi di Lampedusa
    19 Il Processo – Franz Kafka
    20 Le Affinità Elettive – Goethe
    21 Via col Vento – Margaret Mitchell
    22 Il Grande Gatsby – F Scott Fitzgerald
    23 Bleak House – Charles Dickens
    24 Guerra e Pace – Lev Tolstoj
    25 Guida Galattica per Autostoppisti – Douglas Adam
    26 Brideshead Revisited – Evelyn Waugh
    27 Delitto e Castigo– Fyodor Dostoyevsky
    28 Odissea – Omero
    29 Alice nel Paese delle Meraviglie – Lewis Carroll
    30 L’insostenibile leggerezza dell’essere – Milan Kundera
    31 Anna Karenina – Leo Tolstoj
    32 David Copperfield – Charles Dickens
    33 Le Cronache di Narnia – CS Lewis
    34 Emma – Jane Austen
    35 Cuore – Edmondo de Amicis
    36 La Coscienza di Zeno – Italo Svevo
    37 Il Cacciatore di Aquiloni – Khaled Hosseini
    38 Il Mandolino del Capitano Corelli – Louis De Berniere
    39 Memorie di una Geisha – Arthur Golden
    40 Winnie the Pooh – AA Milne
    41 La Fattoria degli Animali – George Orwell
    42 Il Codice da Vinci – Dan Brown
    43 Cento Anni di Solitudine – Gabriel Garcia Marquez
    44 Il Barone Rampante – Italo Calvino
    45 Gli Indifferenti – Alberto Moravia
    46 Memorie di Adriano – Marguerite Yourcenar
    47 I Malavoglia – Giovanni Verga
    48 Il Fu Mattia Pascal – Luigi Pirandello
    49 Il Signore delle Mosche – William Golding
    50 Cristo si è fermato ad Eboli – Carlo Levi
    51 Life of Pi – Yann Martel
    52 Il Vecchio e il Mare – Ernest Hemingway
    53 Don Chisciotte della Mancia – Cervantes
    54 I Dolori del Giovane Werther – J. W. Goethe
    55 Le Avventure di Pinocchio – Collodi
    56 L’Ombra del Vento – Carlos Ruiz Zafon
    57 Siddharta – Hermann Hesse
    58 Brave New World – Aldous Huxley
    59 Lo strano caso del cane ucciso a mezzanotte – Mark Haddon
    60 L’Amore ai Tempi del Colera – Gabriel Garcia Marquez
    61 Uomini e topi – John Steinbeck
    62 Lolita – Vladimir Nabokov
    63 Il Commissario Maigret – George Simenon
    64 The Lovely Bones – Alice Sebold
    65 Il Conte di Monte Cristo – Alexandre Dumas
    66 Sulla Strada – Jack Kerouac
    67 La luna e i Falò – Cesare Pavese
    68 Il Diario di Bridget Jones – Helen Fielding
    69 Midnight’s Children – Salman Rushdie
    70 Moby Dick – Herman Melville
    71 Oliver Twist – Charles Dickens
    72 Dracula – Bram Stoker
    73 Tre Uomini in Barca – Jerome K. Jerome
    74 Notes From A Small Island – Bill Bryson
    75 Ulysses – James Joyce
    76 I Buddenbroock – Thomas Mann
    77 Il buio oltre la siepe – Harper Lee
    78 Germinal – Emile Zola
    79 Vanity Fair – William Makepeace Thackeray
    80 Possession – AS Byatt
    81 A Christmas Carol – Charles Dickens
    82 Il Ritratto di Dorian Gray – Oscar Wilde
    83 Il Colore Viola – Alice Walker
    84 The Remains of the Day – Kazuo Ishiguro
    85 Madame Bovary – Gustave Flaubert
    86 A Fine Balance – Rohinton Mistry
    87 Charlotte’s Web – EB White
    88 Il Rosso e il Nero – Stendhal
    89 Le Avventure di Sherlock Holmes – Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
    90 The Faraway Tree Collection – Enid Blyton
    91 Cuore di tenebra – Joseph Conrad
    92 Il Piccolo Principe– Antoine De Saint-Exupery
    93 The Wasp Factory – Iain Banks
    94 Niente di nuovo sul fronte occidentale – Remarque
    95 Un Uomo – Oriana Fallaci
    96 Il Giovane Holden – Salinger
    97 I Tre Moschettieri – Alexandre Dumas
    98 Amleto– William Shakespeare
    99 Charlie and the Chocolate Factory – Roald Dahl
    100 I miserabili – Victor Hugo

  • Jimetherton 6 December 2010, 1:57 am

    The Book of Lists: I mean, The List of Books. A case study in the Origins and Feeding of a Facebook Meme.
    (I’m not just being cranky because I have read so few of the books on the current list.) This is an interesting study.

  • avid reader 6 December 2010, 1:57 pm

    It’s from The Guardian. Nothing to do w/the BBC.

  • Bittersweetroses 9 December 2010, 7:13 am

    Thank you for this, I was wondering why the Facebook list came up as different to the BBC list that I was familiar with…

    • PurpleCar 9 December 2010, 10:56 am

      And the BBC list is just “BBC fans’ favorite books!” BBC hasn’t fancied
      themselves to be experts on literature.

      -Christine Cavalier

  • David Farmbrough 9 December 2010, 9:41 am

    Thanks – I was suspicious because of the falsely-titled Alice In Wonderland, and also the use of “The BBC claims” to lend authenticity to an urban myth…. so I thought I’d google it and …. voila!

    • PurpleCar 9 December 2010, 10:55 am

      Great point, David, about “Alice in Wonderland” … The Wonderland of the
      Internet, indeed. Series books and books named like “Teenage Wasteland” should
      be big warning signs. Good for you on the Google search. We need to spread the
      word about how running a simple search is a necessary step in the use of the
      Internet. Thanks.

      -christine cavalier

  • Glen McNamee 13 December 2010, 11:09 am

    There is now a Facebook App based on this claim, but it seems to have the correct books.

    Link: http://www.facebook.com/BookListChallenge

    • Glen McNamee 13 December 2010, 11:17 am

      No, actually it is the wrong books. Someone has already posted a link to this blog on the apps discussion board too.

      • PurpleCar 13 December 2010, 12:22 pm

        zOMG. An app?!!! We must all be living in social media hell.

        -Christine Cavalier

  • chadt 22 December 2010, 1:45 am

    hi, i’m a long time internet user and the term meme is not a “little chain-letter-like game that people send around the internet”. I’ve never seen it formally defined but the definition would be close to; an idea or theme that is virally duplicated by many sources spawning different variations but remaining more or less true to its original.

    and then you can go into meme merging and other such things but thats not what i’m concerned with.

    • PurpleCar 22 December 2010, 7:03 am

      True. I write for beginners, though, and I needed a definition that fit this
      meme. Memes started out in email, replicating the chain-letters that went around
      in snail mail. That’s the history of the word. There can be multiple definitions
      and usages of words, so I think my definition in this context would definitely
      be one of the entries in a formal definition.

      It’s surprising to me how many people are deeply concerned about this particular
      word. I keep meaning to start another post to deal with it…


      • Susie B 23 December 2010, 4:43 am

        The history of the word is actually that it was invented by Richard Dawkins in 1976, so if you want a formal definition your best bet is to read what he said when he coined the word in The Selfish Gene:

        a meme is “a unit of cultural inheritance, hypothesized as analogous to the particulate gene and as naturally selected by virtue of its ‘phenotypic’ consequences on its own survival and replication in the cultural environment.”

        Or to put it more simply, it is a fragment of culture – something like a story, idea, belief or behaviour pattern – that is pased from one person to another by copying, imitation or teaching. It can be pased via email or the internet, but it certainly doesn’t have to be. Cinderella; whether you greet people with ‘Hello’, ‘How ya doing’, or ‘Hi’; how you hold and use a knife when you’re eating – these are all memes. Internet memes – such as book lists or amusing cat videos – are a very small and recent subset.

      • Ge Bilie 1 March 2011, 6:44 am

        I am surprised that you’re so surprised that people are deeply concerned about the severely limited scope of your definition of a meme given that your entire article was written to debunk a lie and express your contempt for the deceiver.

        Susie B has set the record straight for what a meme is below and I think she deserves your gratitude. Perhaps your mistake could have been overlooked in a way that the author of the books list could not due to your lack of intent, but you have continually defended yourself in the face of easily obtainable evidence to the contrary. Wasn’t it you who wrote below, “Why purport to be academic in your conjecture when you’ve not done the least bit of research?”

        Just apologize for your mistake and make a correction. It’s that simple and then perhaps more people will go read Dawkins.

  • PurpleCar 29 December 2010, 9:27 am

    OK, here’s the post on meme, complete with a definition and history of the word. I also add my reasoning for the use of “chain-letter like” in this post. http://www.purplecar.net/2010/12/definition-of-meme/

  • Sueskimo 30 December 2010, 11:03 am

    Ha! Ha! Just like you said this is now doing the rounds of my old uni friends and yes there is an element of competition especially between the scientists ( we need to prove we can read something other than a textbook) and the linguists ( who always felt they were superior to us!! 🙂 )
    I noticed the penchant for books into films on the FB list but as I am so strange in my reading habits discovered to my delight that I am so well read I should be at Oxford!
    We are all soooo gullible – we really need to feel we are doing OK by some standard or other. I tottally agree – redaing shlud be for enjoyment not because you ought to have “done” a worthy book.
    As I disappear into The Hemlock Cup – Bettany Hughes book about Socrates which is great but not exactly bedtime reading; and listen to Percy Jackson and the Titan’s curse…..books are a joy!

    • PurpleCar 30 December 2010, 10:06 pm

      I love listening to books, by the way. I LOVED the Harry Potter series on CD. I
      had read the books, and hearing them read was amazing. Also, the actor that read
      Stieg Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy was superb.

      But yes, back to being sucked in, in a negative way… we are all so, SO
      gullible, as you said. Maybe it’s old media tradition, how we all just were
      trained to believe what we read in the paper. I find the older generations are
      even worse at this. For example, I remember when we had to explain something to
      my inlaws about rehearsal dinners, specifically that it was traditional to allow
      wedding party members to bring one guest to the rehearsal dinner. They didn’t
      believe us until we showed them a paragraph stating so in a wedding etiquette
      book. Nowadays, you can get any book that says any darn thing that suits your
      needs, especially if you print off some of the self-published drivel in the
      non-fiction section of any e-book store.

      And now that the conglomerates behind traditional news sources have been
      revealed, it’s more and more evident that we must find original sources
      ourselves. Seeing something printed and re-printed makes no difference any more.
      We must find trusted sources and make judgments based on those and any other
      source. This is a flawed system, of course, but we don’t have much choice.

      I’m glad you are one of the people that does look for original info. In doing so
      myself, I found that this meme held a false claim, and I could then let others
      know to stop the culture war they were beginning to wage in their heads against
      the BBC. God help us when false information leads to real wars… oh wait… God
      help us now.

      -Christine Cavalier


  • Daire 13 January 2011, 6:11 am

    It was the Sunday Times Book List that people have only read 6 of – about 2 years ago?!

    • PurpleCar 13 January 2011, 9:27 am

      Daire, yes it seems as though a list was in The Guardian over two years ago, but it was not the same list. Plus, don’t think that paper claimed that people have read only 6.
      Sent from Yahoo! Mail on Android

  • strange mother 21 January 2011, 8:52 am

    Mmm – I came to this list only recently and sure enough despite ‘never’ doing this kind of survey, I took it and have been just a bit obsessed since – even though I know that this is far from the only ‘top 100 books list’ out there and definitely not the UK and possibly young reader biased BBC list of favourites from 2003 ‘Big read’ (which actually goes up to 200 anyway). So despite the fact it is silly I’m now up to 93 titles on the list (do I really need to know so much about the 19th C sperm whaling industry?) and am just a bit troubled about how I’m going to go about reading the whole Bible to achieve 100…

    • PurpleCar 21 January 2011, 10:03 am

      LOL Hi Strange Mother.
      You sound like you should make your own 100 books lists! Why not write us up one
      for young adult, kids, adults, and classics, with international books? You seem
      very well read.

      I grew up in Catholic school so I’ve read the entire Bible in depth. Some parts
      many times. Psalms is probably the best written, the Gospel of Luke probably the
      least fact-based. Anyway, I’m good. 12 years of it was enough.

      Please make some notes and get back to us! I totally understand your obsession,
      as the Pulitzer list is just as random and I feel like I should read all of

      -Christine Cavalier

  • C3678859 21 January 2011, 1:39 pm

    Learn what a meme is.

    • PurpleCar 21 January 2011, 1:51 pm

      Wow, some of you are having a really hard time understanding this. Either that,
      or this commenter did not read through the comments.

      I posit that there are not enough words to sufficiently address the current
      needs of the tech community. Meme, to me, denotes participation. “Viral internet
      phenomenon” is not a meme, although “meme” is being applied to that definition.
      One could postulate that watching or even just receiving a meme is in fact
      participation, and I get that, but we need a word that includes the definition
      of more active involvement instead of passive participation. One other could
      postulate that meme is a word with multiple definitions. I say we all agree to
      this, for now.

      I suggest you read more of my blog and the comments before you comment on blog

  • Samuel David 15 February 2011, 5:30 am

    it looks like a spam. unwanted messages. but it is fun to pass around.
    free dating

  • Walkiria Truss 24 February 2011, 7:47 am

    I really tought abaut what you´re saying when I answered that, there was some titles that I ask “why is this here?” But I thoght the list with that kind of literature could be more opened to that ones who read only bestsellers, no matter if they´re great books, self-help sells lots of books. But it´s interesting to just remember that television is not the only thing that exist in the world. Your text is very cleaver and really makes us think about reading. Congratulations.

  • Lady Odcar 30 March 2011, 3:38 pm

    embiggen is not a word – you mean enlarge

    • PurpleCar 30 March 2011, 3:42 pm

      Yes, you are correct, “embiggen” is not a word. I used it as a joke. It’s a
      common joke among geeky types on the web.

      thanks for the head’s up though!