Memes as wise crowds.

Memes are basically ideas that catch on, that touch some sort of popular nerve, and as a result promptly spread throughout a culture. Almost by definition, a meme should be able to trace its ancestry, but even so, many seem to have their origins shrouded in some (in internet terms at least) ancient folklore. As they spread, they touch different groups of people, each of whom add their own spin to them, refining and redefining them so that they are distilled into clear and operable ideas (or peter out because they don't do so). To this extent (at least) they conform to Surowiecki's characteristics of wise crowds.

Sometimes we don't need complex theories to figure out why some ideas catch on while others don't. The pendulum swing of cultural trends is, to my mind, a simpler explanation than the meme, and in this case, rather convincing. Western society is a highly individualistic culture. People act alone, rather than in groups. At a certain point this anti-group emphasis becomes a bit too top-heavy, and teamwork starts (again) to become a value. When it does, the same ideas of how groups can better achieve their goals show up in various professions, social groups, age groups and the like. Somebody out there is probably already collecting data on how rugged individualism is the best decision-making policy ... but he or she is still waiting for the pendulum to start its backswing before publication.

Go to: How to choose your crowd wisely, or
Go to: Are crowds really that smart?