TECH TALK: Constructing the Memex: Of Stigmergy and Memes

It was one of these serendipitous discoveries that led me to a note by Joe Gregorio on Stigmergy. I was following a link from a Mike Bedan post on Memex. Mikes blog had shown up tops in a search I had on Google for Memex RSS Blogs OPML. I had put that combination of words in Google after many previous efforts. (One of my posts shows up tops in the search on Google.) Hopefully, it is this accidental discovery and click-and-try process tha the Memex will hopefully address!

Back to Stigmergy and Joe Gregorio. Joe quotes E. Bonabeau, M. Dorigo, and G. Theraulaz in giving a definition of Stigmergy: Self-Organization in social insects often requires interactions among insects: such interactions can be direct or indirect. Direct interactions are the “obvious” interactions: antennation, trophallaxis (food or liquid exchange), mandibular contact, visual contact, chemical contact (the odor of nearby nestmates), etc. Indirect interactions are more subtle: two individuals interact indirectly when one of then modifies the environment and the other responds to the new environment at a later time. Such an interaction is an example of stigmergy.

While Joe does not explicitly talk about the Memex (the connection between Stigmergy and the Memex was made by Mike Bedan), he does talk of Weblogs, Neighbourhoods, and Google. And Memes. No, thats not a typo. Memes are, according to Joe, a unit of intellectual or cultural information that survives long enough to be recognized as such, and which can pass from mind to mind. They can be carried by word of mouth, dead trees, e-mail, or the web. On the web, in particular on weblogs, memes are tracked by links to particular sites or stories. In other words, Memes are mind viruses.

A small diversion as we elaborate a little on Memes. To quote Richard Dawkins: Memes should be regarded as living structures, not just metaphorically but technically. When you plant a fertile meme in my mind you literally parasitize my brain, turning it into a vehicle for the memes propagation in just the way that a virus may parasitize the genetic mechanism of a host cell.

Not only is the word Meme very similar to the Memex that we are talking of constructing, Memes are what a lot of our ideas are about. When we interact with each other, we are transmitting our ideas and thoughts. These stick and grow. This is, in some ways, how writing happens. And as we read what others write, memes are transmitted. What weblogs do is enable the transmission of memes without the need for direct contact. In a way, they provide the shortcuts for meme propagation. And this is a key concept of the Small Worlds theory as articulated by Duncan Watts, which we will consider shortly. For now, suffice to say, that our personal Memex in the form of blogs and personal directories work as meme propagating vehicles.

Tomorrow: Of Stigmergy and Memes (continued)

TECH TALK Constructing the Memex+T

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Rajesh Jain

An Entrepreneur based in Mumbai, India.