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Memes on the Internet

The internet is really an amazingly good place to see how memes propagate. Jokes, hoaxes, and chain letters circulate in email and newsgroups; catchy links make the rounds from site to site, weblog to weblog; and at every step mutation occurs, just like in the old game of Telephone, only better, because it's easier to copy large blocks of data verbatim.

A recent email from a friend provided an excellent example. Here are the parts I liked best, quoted from what I later chose to be the canonical version.

The letters are Hex, of an ancient mode, but the language is that of Microsoft, which I shall not utter here.


Three OS's from corporate-kings in their towers of glass,
   Seven from valley-lords where orchards used to grow,
Nine from dotcoms doomed to die,
   One from the Dark Lord on his dark throne
In the Land of Redmond where the Shadows lie.
   One OS to rule them all, One OS to find them,
   One OS to bring them all and in the darkness bind them,
In the Land of Redmond where the Shadows lie.

The verse is an adaptation of Tolkien's, of course, but there's more to it than that.

The email didn't have any attribution, so just for fun I decided to search for the original on the web. What I found was a bunch of different versions.

There were a few from before the “one OS” theme had stabilized, notably, one about “one disk”. There was one that introduced the theme of glass, with “business lords in their halls of glass” on the second line, where Tolkien had “Dwarf-lords in their halls of stone”. The verse above is a hybrid, containing most of the others' strengths and few of their weaknesses … plus a few good mutations, like “dotcoms doomed to die”.

I should point out that the vaguely Elvish hex string in the canonical version is a unique mutation. All the others had, if anything, a one-line string of text.

One of the versions referred to Windows 98, so the adapted verse seems to have existed well before the recent movie release, but I wouldn't be surprised if it was the movie that provoked the new hybrid, and in any case I'm sure the meme propagates better now that the movie's being promoted.

The most interesting thing, for me, is that because of the gradual development and multiple authors, the verse doesn't fit into the framework of works and actors that I like to use … but I'll finish that thought in another essay, on object frameworks.

Finally, here's a little tidbit I found on Off Topic a while back. I thought it was funny, and deserved to be propagated.

The U.S. military calls its campaign Operation Infinite Justice, for now.


If we really think this Madison Avenue crap is appropriate, why not corporate sponsorship of war? "Doritos Operation Infinite Crunch" has a nice ring to it.

It's also interesting to me for another reason. After I copied it, it sat around in my notes for a while. When I came back to it, I considered the possibility that it didn't belong here, that I should just delete it … and it was surprising to me how strongly I felt compelled not to. What was going on there, I wonder?


  See Also

  meme, memetic
  Object Frameworks

@ February (2002)