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Meme Update #19

In this issue:
    Six Degrees
    Fish Wars Update
    Internet Mind Virus Update
    Book Review: Unlocking the Zen Koan

Six Degrees

They say it's not what you know, but who you know, that is important in life. And if it's not who you know, it could be who who you know knows, or even who who who you know knows knows, or ...

As a boy, I was fascinated by the idea that, going through a chain of people who know each other, I could make my way to anyone: the President. The Beatles. The Brady Bunch. The possibilities were endless. As the John Guare play and movie made us all aware, it is thought that in six such steps anyone could reach anyone else: six degrees of separation.

This hypothesis has now been brought to the Internet for testing or just for fun: is a free service that shows you exactly how many degrees of separation there are between you and anyone else who is enrolled in the service. You can post messages that go out to your own first and second degrees, sort of a virtual coffee klatch for good advice. Best of all, it allows you to search your own personal network for, say, someone who lives in Seattle who likes scuba diving. Sixdegrees will tell you who you have to network through to get to such a person.

From a memetic standpoint, is interesting because of its strategy of self-replication. When you enter contacts into its confidential database, it emails each of them to verify, for example, that Hilary Clinton really is your significant other. They can then choose to join that party and enter their own contact list. In fact, you must enter at least two contacts in order to use the thing at all.

We are seeing more and more of this kind of self-replicating business strategy everywhere from long-distance telephone service (MCI Friends & Family) to bookselling ( Associates) to scuba diving (I'd swear those PADI training videos were designed by CIA mind-control experts: "as you experience the delights of this beautiful underwater world, you'll want to tell your friends all about it and introduce them to the wonders of the deep ... deep ... deep ...") You heard it here first: self-replicating business strategy is going to be the single most important money-making technique of the next few years.

Meanwhile, head over to and tell them I sent you...

Fish Wars Update

Loyal Meme Update readers will remember the article about Fish Wars in Meme Update #15 ( ). Reader Marie Foster reports sighting a new species:

"My son Tim has an eagle eye for fishes... the ones on cars that is. And he is very bright. We have a contest going on about new fish er stories. He came up with the best one today. I hope you have the time to enjoy it.

Darwin Fish - kissing - Jesus Fish

I for one like it!"

Me too. Why can't we all just get along?

Book Review
Unlocking the Zen Koan
Translated by Thomas Cleary

Koans are riddle-lessons from the Zen discipline (un-discipline?) The most famous set of Koans is known as the Wumenguan ("Gateless Gate"). Zen ancients believed there are 18 major enlightenments to be had and countless minor ones. This wonderful book, first released under the title "No Barrier," is now back in a slick new edition with Buddha smiling on the cover.

Cleary, perhaps best known for his stunning translation of The Art of War, provides both the best explanation of Zen I have ever read and a savory, delightful journey through the wonders of the Gateless Gate. I think at least two of the 18 enlightenments are available to steadfast followers of Cleary's instructions for using the book -- maybe more! At just over $10 with your Memetics Bookstore discount, this is a no-brainer of a bargain.

You can order Unlocking the Zen Koan from

Internet Mind Virus Update

I got a call from the Philadelphia Inquirer the other day wanting me to give them the scientific explanation behind all the Internet "virus" hoaxes, urban legends, and so on. I explained that there was indeed a virus, but that it wasn't a computer virus but a virus of the mind! If anybody in Philadelphia sees a copy of the article, please send it to me. It's always fun to see how memes get mutated during an interview.

Meanwhile, here's another perspective on the matter from reader and friend Tim Rhodes:

>Danger: New Virus Warning

If you receive an e-mail with a subject line of "Badtimes," delete it immediately WITHOUT reading it. This is the most dangerous e-mail virus yet.

It will rewrite your hard drive. Not only that, but it will scramble any disks that are even close to your computer. It will re-calibrate your refrigerator's coolness setting so all your ice cream melts and milk curdles.

It will demagnetize the strips on all your credit cards, reprogram your AATM harmonics access code, screw up the tracking on your VCR and use subspace field harmonics to scratch any CDs you try to play.

It will give your ex-boy/girlfriend your new phone number. It will mix antifreeze into your fish tank. It will drink all your beer and leave its dirty socks on the coffee table when there's company coming over. It will hide your car keys when you are late for work and interfere with your car radio so that you hear only static while stuck in traffic.

Badtimes will make you fall in love with a hardened paedophile. It will give you nightmares about circus midgets. It will replace your shampoo with Nair and your Nair with Rogaine, all while dating your current boy/girlfriend behind your back and billing their hotel rendezvous to your Visa card.

It will seduce your grandmother. It does not matter if she is dead, such is the power of Badtimes, it reaches out beyond the grave to sully those things we hold most dear.

Badtimes will give you Dutch Elm disease. It will leave the toilet seat up and leave the hairdryer plugged in dangerously close to a full bathtub.

It will wantonly remove the forbidden tags from your mattresses and pillows and refill your skimmed milk with whole.

It is insidious and subtle. It is dangerous and terrifying to behold. It is also a rather interesting shade of mauve. These are just a few signs. Be very, very afraid. PLEASE FORWARD THIS MESSAGE TO EVERYONE YOU KNOW!!! Virus Central!! Ain't technology great?

All the best memes,