A new meme unfolds

Posted by: Tedstaff

Photo: David Geller/whatcounts

Memeticist Susan Blackmore uses the hotel-bathroom toilet-paper fold as an example of a useless meme — a meme that has spread throughout the world, even though there is no human reason for it to exist. The persistence of this meme easily disproves the comfortable notion that we humans only spread ideas that are useful or interesting — it shows that, once a meme takes on life, it spreads itself.

Origami_meme.jpgInspired by Blackmore’s research, origamist and TEDster Bruno Bowden created a combinatorial meme — linking Blackmore’s ideas with the sophisticated folding techniques discussed by origami master Robert J. Lang onstage at TED. See photo at left.

+ To learn more about dangerous memes, listen to
Dan Dennett’s awesome 2002 TEDTalk >>

+ To learn more about toilet-paper origami, check out this devoted student of the art >>

+ To see what happened when Ze Frank was attacked by this meme on Day 4 of TED@Aspen, visit our Flickr set >>

Comments (1)

  • Magnus Lindkvist commented on Mar 3 2008

    Susan Blackmore’s example of toilet paper isn’t necessarily an empty symbol of caretaking but might in fact have a much deeper meaning. French psychoanalyst/ marleting survey conductor Clotaire Rapaille has found in his studies that toilet paper is a highly poten symbol to people as it represents “freedom” and “independence”. How so? When we are children, it is wen we can use toilet paper ourselves that we can be alone in the bathroom for the first time without our parents. Since hotels probably want to send the same message of freedom and indepence (although they may not be aware of it), they “dramatize” the toilet paper to subtly remind its patrons of their first taste of freedom.