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Inception And The Rise Of The Meme

Christopher Nolan’s Inception has received plenty of buzz about its cast, direction, score, and intricate plot, but there is something more to this...

Simone Haruko Smith
Simone Haruko Smith on July 29, 2010.

Christopher Nolan’s Inception has received plenty of buzz about its cast, direction, score, and intricate plot, but there is something more to this summer blockbuster worth considering. The premise of the movie revolves around the awesome, inevitable, and all-consuming power of ideas. “What’s the most resilient parasite?” DiCaprio rhetorically asks in the film’s opening scene- before dramatically leaning in with his ominous answer: “An idea. A single idea from the human mind can build cities. An idea can transform the world and rewrite all the rules.”

Inception is onto something.

We appear to be entering a new paradigm- one in which value makes a powerful shift. Today we may be obsessed with currency fluctuations and devaluation of printed money and tomorrow emphasis will veer increasingly toward fixed resources such as oil and water. In the long run, however, these blunt forms of currency will pale in comparison to memes.

Consider, for example, value-related concepts introduced by the great science fiction and near future writers of our age- Charles Stross, Cory Doctorow, William Gibson, etc… Few of these forward-thinking futurists regard money as anything of particular value. Instead, the characters they create evolve from venture capitalists into venture altruists and deal in entrepreneurial ideas, or social capital (whuffie), amongst other knowledge-based currencies. With increasingly advanced technology, money takes a backseat to the ideas that truly make the world run.

One needn’t look only to techno-speculation and science fiction to prove the nascent value of ideas. One can already realize memes’ growing power by observing their behavior online. The Internet both makes it easier to acknowledge the importance of ideas and accelerates their spread. Online memes have taken the media by storm more than once, and their impact will only gain magnitude with time.

Rocketboom’s Institute for Internet Studies has even started to chronicle the growth and progress of Internet memes with a witty but well-researched flare that not only entertains audiences worldwide with coverage of new and breaking memes (especially those of the humorous sort) but also legitimizes these viral ideas and preserves their evolution for posterity. While Rocketboom’s memes are mostly comedic, they are only one slice of a larger pie of ideas that are more powerful than any single human, organization, or nation. Self-replicating and impossible to control, these ideas are a force to be reckoned with indeed.

In short, we may focus on fiat money now, but in the future, you may want to set your sights on something at once more concrete and ephemeral: good memes. They may seem elusive, but they sure can pack a punch- and as reality becomes abstracted in a world of accelerated technology, they will soon be all we have left. Inception, therefore, may seem to discuss some pretty outlandish themes, but they aren’t so far off.

That said, you needn’t start convulsing from future shock just yet. This paradigm shift is simply a return to earlier times- times when expertise and specialization were bartered for in kind. Come to think of it, the dubious concept of paper money is the only outlandish one. For your comfort and pace of mind, simply consider this development to be an elegant concept coming full circle.

Thinking...