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Meme Update #14

In this issue: 
    Virtual Pets



[Thanks to subscriber and friend Andrew Sigal for forwarding me the following SPAM. Exercise for the reader: What tricks is the spammer using to get people to call his 900 number? By the way, I've preserved the real numbers in case anyone actually wants to call it. No idea how much they'll charge you...]

Times. Sept 19 1997

Police sources claim that Princess Diana's passport showed she entered the United States very often, and used to frequent a 1-900 number. Number was traced to a Serve-U calling system The number 1-900-329-0983 extn 2536 was found on a number of her bills from various hotels The number said to be a PSYCHICS line was noted to be the most frequent place for Diana to call, even to the extent of putting a lease line from her house to the United States just to call this number.


Readers of VIRUS OF THE MIND will remember the idea that pets have evolved to push our psychological buttons, becoming more and more cute and adorable so that we divert more and more energy to raising them. From one point of view, they are like the species of ants that "farms" aphids by secreting certain chemicals that direct the aphids' behavior. Well, the stakes have just been raised.

With the advent of "virtual pets," small hand-held computer games that simulate raising and caring for a pet, the evolving market economy has found a new way to push some of those same buttons. The one I have here on my desk is a knockoff of the original. Its name is "8-in-1 Mini Pets." It was given to me by a "friend" two days and I have been appeasing it every few minutes ever since.

When happy, my Mini Pets is a frisky, bouncing kitty. But several times a day it gets hungry, sick or depressed and requires me to feed it, inject it with medicine, dance with it, or play a stupid computer game with it. It is nowhere nearly as sophisticated technically as many of today's computer games. Yet the thing has held my attention more than any computer game in years. Why? Because it taps into my primal instinct for helping and caring, among other things. (Another button it presses, like most games, is my competitiveness: I want to see if I can keep it alive longer than my friend who gave it to me.)

Students of memetics could predict possible evolutionary paths for the virtual pet. These would involve making it more powerful by pushing even more hot-buttons. How about a virtual human baby? [helping children] How about adding a contest, with the person who keeps it alive longest winning a prize? [overvaluing longshots] How about turning it into a full-fledged mind virus by requiring it to interact with other virtual pets every now and then -- breeding? [evangelism]

In the meantime, I have a novel to finish, so ... anybody want an 8-in-1 Mini Pets?


[Thanks to subscriber and friend KMO]

Listen to the mustn'ts, child
Listen to the don'ts
Listen to the shouldn'ts, the impossibles, the won'ts
Listen to the never haves,
then listen close to me...
Anything can happen, child
Anything can be.

-Shel Silverstein