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Meme Update #11

In this issue: 
    Kurt Vonnegut and Other Celebrities



Your favorite web site and mine, Meme Central, is now connected via a T-1 line to the Internet. What does this mean to you? Fast, safe access to the scariest, sexiest, tastiest site on the Web! Point your browser today to!


Last week an email was circulated widely throughout the Internet. It purported to be a copy of a commencement speech given by author Kurt Vonnegut to the graduating class at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Witty and to the point, I myself received it and forwarded it to several friends. There was only one problem.

Vonnegut never wrote it, delivered it, or endorsed it.

The current story -- and I haven't taken the trouble to actually verify THIS, so it could just be another part of the hoax -- is that the speech was actually written by newspaper columnist Mary Schmich of the Chicago Tribune, where it was originally published. It was only when Vonnegut's name got attached to the speech that people started spreading it wildly.

Most accounts I have read are concerned with the origin of the mind virus -- how did Vonnegut's name get attached initially? Weird mistake or intentional hoax? How about memetic experiment? Was it one of YOU? Fess up!

Even more interesting than discovering the virus's origin, though, is understanding the power of the celebrity meme. If I, and I'm sure others, had received the email with the correct byline, I would have read a bit, said, "cute," and deleted it. But being able to picture Vonnegut standing in front of a thousand MIT graduates made it more interesting to me.

Like tribespeople gathering around to hear the tribal leaders speak, we give celebrities incredible gravity. Just look at all the pictures and mentions of them in tabloids, TV, and popular magazines. As marketing gurus know, attaching a celebrity endorsement to an otherwise unimpressive product can be worth millions.

That's why MEME UPDATE, your favorite newsletter and mine, will henceforth be known as KURT VONNEGUT'S MEME UPDATE NEWSLETTER. Spread the meme!


The Joe Chemo image mentioned in the culture-jamming article in the last issue of MEME UPDATE is available on the Jay Hanson page:

[Thanks to reader Larry Rupp for the pointer]


How could a game with such simple rules, such as evolution by natural selection, produce such complexity? Well, chess has simple rules and we still don't know a sure-fire way to play and win every game. The idea that simple rules may interact to produce wonderful complexity--"simplexity"--is only one of the brain-bending ideas authors Jack Cohen and Ian Stewart gush forth with in this rich and entertaining popular science book.

The flip side of "simplexity" is "complicity" -- a game where the very act of playing the game changes the rules. Hmm...this looks like evolution again! It's a wonderful exploration of the science behind evolution cast into many different allegories and scenarios, including comical heated discussions among the eight-sexed Zarathustrans, an invention of the authors that does beautifully at reflecting our own egocentric assumptions about the nature of reality -- and the figments of reality.

You can ORDER THIS BOOK NOW at 30% off the cover price from the Memetics Bookstore by clicking HERE:


Reader John Stoner has created a designer virus to spread the meme of generosity.

Here's what he says about the virus:

"A little while ago, I made up these cards. They create a chain of generous acts, memetically.

"How do you use them? You do something nice for someone, and you do it anonymously. For example, you could pay the toll of the car behind you at a tollbooth. One thing I've done is go to this wonderful bakery near my home, and buy a treat for the next person who walks in the door after I leave. Be creative!

"And you pass on one of these cards.... check them out."

See the memetics links at


Before you criticize a man, walk a mile in his shoes. That way, when you do criticize him, you'll be a mile away and have his shoes.