Could we use a scoring system for digital content, assigning them an ‘online (digital) fitness’?
Image credit: Eugene Zhyvchik, unsplash.com
Subash ChapagainOct 21, 2020
Given that all forms of digital content are memes of one kind or another, can we employ a scoring matrix that determines the value of online ideas over time?
So, a little bit of background first:
We all have used, laughed at, made, and shared memes. But do we actually know what the real concept underlying the meme is?
A Meme is more than a viral joke on the internet. It is an idea much more complex than a mere string of characters on top of a picture. To put it in context, memes in society/platform are what genes in a living system are. In saying so, I would have to elaborate on how this analogy is justified.
The idea of a meme appeared for the first time in the book titled “The Selfish Gene” by Professor Richard Dawkins, a biologist and a vocal proponent of scientific and rationalist thinking. To borrow his words first hand, a MEME is a cultural equivalent of a gene. If you have known basic biology, you might very well recall that a gene is a unit, a section of chromosome (or a DNA molecule) that can transmit to the next generation via a biological reproduction process. And since genes are responsible for encoding proteins (and biomolecules like RNA) that make up any living organism, they are the ultimate determinant of the evolution of species. This is a purely Darwinian concept, and it has to be also understood that occasional errors in the biological copying of these genes during reproduction is the basis of evolution that on a larger historical time frame can give rise to organisms with new, peculiar features, eventually giving rise to species anew as well.
Imitation is what gives memes their intrinsic virtue. When Richard Dawkins proposed the meme theory, this was exactly what he wanted to put forward. The choice of the word itself proves his intention in light- ‘Mimeme’ is a Greek word that translates to imitation, and Dawkins ingeniously coined the term ‘meme’ to reflect the essence of the phenomenon. Just as the process of biological replication of genes (DNA to be precise) is intrinsically accompanied by errors, the imitation of memes is also erroneous, and hence responsible for bringing about new variations in the original idea (or meme). The field of linguistics can offer a plausible example for explicating this case: the rise of new dialects, new forms of language, new words, and catch-phrases are the result of a slight error in imitations.
It is an established axiom in biology that that evolution is the result of copying errors during reproduction. This brings us to yet another concept in biology: evolutionary fitness. Evolutionary fitness can be conceptually understood as the ability of an organism (at the macro level) and that of a gene (at the micro-level) to survive and reproduce in the environment in which they are. Hence, analyzing fitness in terms of its mathematical measures, it can be considered as a measure of viability: how long can a gene (and hence the species that has it) continue to exist in the environment it finds itself in? The more it survives, the more fit (evolutionarily) it is!
Since ideas online are also constantly evolving over time-being copied, shared, strengthened, weakened, imitated, and omitted- I imagine it shall somehow be possible to develop a system (AI assisted) to assign a relative value to the digital contents. This value can be called the ‘online/digital fitness of a meme’- meme being any content/idea/concept that is present online. To build upon the meme: gene analogy of Professor Dawkins, can we devise an analogous concept of fitness for memes as biologists do with fitness for genes? (For example, myspace.com could be deemed to have less fitness now, as compared to Spotify; ditto for Hi5.com vs Facebook.)
At a more basic level, can we distill this idea to unitary contents like a post, a photo, video, or an audio file? What do you think would be the utility of such a scoring scheme?
Orr HA. Fitness and its role in evolutionary genetics. Nat Rev Genet. 2009;10(8):531-539. doi:10.1038/nrg2603