Languages disappear from the face of the earth. More and more, the planet is slowly approaching a homogeneous linguistic landscape. When was the last time you met someone who spoke Manx?

Technologies dissapear from the face of the earth. My family's first computer was an Apple II+. The Apple II is dying--kicking and screaming, as its users try to prop it up, but dying nonetheless. I hope for sentimental reasons it takes a long time to die. When's the last time you rented a video that worked with Betamax?

Forces--technological, theoretic, cultural, market-oriented--determine what memes survive. Sometimes the forces are inexplicable; the Flat Earth Society still exists, even after Neil Armstrong. In many cases, one can support only one meme out of a group (Is the earth rotating about the sun? The sun about the earth? Is the sun in fact a hole in the dome surrounding the sky? Are we all living on the back of a giant turtle?). In this case, a Darwinian process determines which of the multiple (possibly thousands of) memes survives and flourishes; the process is duplicated in a near-infinite number of ways and generally goes on somewhere beneath the conscious level of the people involved. Except for children, people generally accept the fact that they wash their hands before dinner. Americans don't normally question the fact that they speak English, rather than Mandarin or Welsh.

The competition can be ugly; "red in tooth and claw" doesn't begin to describe the behavior of some memes when threatened. The Inquisition, Stalin's purges, the extinction of aboriginal peoples throughout the world. But older ones were worse, I think. Some developing hominds learned, once upon a time, that they could manipulate concepts better than others; tools and language followed. The Neanderthals probably never even knew what hit them.

They are not our parents. History is determined by the winners; for memes, the winners are the only survivors.

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Inf(l)ections by Steve Cook