(Meme)X Marks the Spot: Theorizing Metablogging in Terms of Dawkins'sMeme and Reddy'sConduit

I recently heard that the talk I proposed has been accepted to BlogTalk – A European Conference On Weblogs. Here is the abstract I sent:

I plan to examine the language bloggers use to describe their activities, in terms of the “meme” (or some variant, such as the virulent persistence of the “blogging urge”) and the “conduit” (as embodied by metablogging tools such as Blogdex, or concepts such as “trackbacks”). If time permits, I would also like to examine the language journalists use when describing bloggers.

Because Vannevar Bush described his hypothetical document-association tool “memex” as a means for linking pages from disparate sources, the memex is frequently invoked in histories of hypertext; yet Bush also sees his memex as a means for a new kind of intellectual activity — the free exchange of complex, annotated association schemas (what Bush called “trails”). Before the development of weblogs, hypertext as experienced by the vast majority of non-specialists (that is, those who are not professional hypertext theorists or web designers) only crudely implemented the “writerly” potential of electronic text. If bloggers can be seen as building their own trails of annotated links, then metablogging implements a crucial, interactive element of Bush’s vision.

I will examine this premise in terms of Dawkins’s “meme” (a free-floating bit of cultural knowledge) and Reddy’s “conduit metaphor” (the means by which language transmits knowledge from person to person). According to Humphrey, “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 meme’s propagation in just the way that a virus may parasitize the genetic mechanism of a host cell.” Reddy, a linguist, draws upon the metaphors people actually use when talking about knowledge, and observes two major implementations of a conduit metaphor. In the first, the communicator assembles ideas into a package (a sentence, a gesture), which is then transmitted to the audience, extracted, and interpreted. In the second, the communicator releases a flood of thoughts, words and ideas, which may or may not be picked up by an audience, but are nevertheless “out there”.

While blogging does not encourage the kind of careful, studied reflection traditionally associated with the construction of monolithic knowledge, blogging culture involves a system of checks and balances, relying upon ready access to full text versions of cited sources and full access to archives, in order to keep bloggers intellectually honest with one another. While bloggers may be non-experts at programming or hypertext theory, they often become experts at blogging their subject of choice (even when that subject is intensely personal), and thus participate in the exchange of annotated links that Vannevar Bush imagined would be a vast boon to the professional’s intellectual life. In such an environment, blogging permits non-programmers to experience, with much greater ease, the power of hypertext authorship.

Dennis G. Jerz(Meme)X Marks the Spot: Theorizing Metablogging in Terms of Dawkins‘s Meme and Reddy‘s Conduit (Literacy Weblog)