Teaching and Technology: The Impact of Unlimited Information Access on Classroom Teaching: Proceedings of a National Forum at Earlham College

By Evan Ira Farber; Forum on Teaching and Technology | Go to book overview

A GADFLY'S VIEW
DANIEL C. DENNETT

In his 1976 book, The Selfish Gene, Richard Dawkins defines a meme as a unit of culture that is subject to replication and selection. That is, memes are to cultural evolution what genes are to biological evolution. Examples of memes are such exalted cultural objects as theories of plate tectonics, or Newtonian physics, or Einsteinian relativity theory, symphonies, theological principles, or such lowly objects as advertising jingles, food fads, slang terms, and computer programs. Technological innovations are memes and so are behavioral or organizational innovations. Television is a meme. Another is the use of television in the classroom. The idea of the computer is a meme and so is the idea of using a computer in the classroom. Memes have physical embodiments -- printed in books, painted on walls, molded into vinyl disks, magnetically preserved on floppy disks, stored in libraries, and more.

Their replication and preservation depends on human brain activity. Some have vivid but brief periods of popularity followed by near extinction, such as "Where's the beef?' hoola hoops, canasta, stereopticon pictures, and other technological turkeys of the past and future. Others seem to be with us for the long run -- long division, Christianity, newspapers, television.

I propose that we follow Richard Dawkins and adopt the meme's eye view. A motto for this -- which I like because it nicely

Dennett is Director, Center for Cognitive Studies, and CoDirector, Curricular Software Studio, Tufts University, Medford, Massachusetts.

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