Richard Brodie is probably best known as the author of Microsoft Word 1.0, but he’s slowly building a strong body of work in the new realm of Memetics. His book Virus of the Mind: The New Science of the Meme spent over a year on the Amazon.com best seller list and is now in its fifth printing (powerful memes).
Brodie is curently working on a novel.
Roy Christopher: What evidence do you cite to silence the nay sayers that memetic theory is still a viable metaphor for cultural evolution?
Richard Brodie: Are you kidding? Silencing the naysayers is the last thing I want to do. My book sales have tripled since the entrenched academic establishment finally started to see memetics as a serious field. Memetic theory tells us that repetition of a meme, regardless of whether you think you are “for” it or “against” it, helps it spread. It’s like the old saying “there’s no such thing as bad publicity.”
But it’s interesting you say “still” a viable metaphor. I really think memetics is still in its infancy as a science. There are so many interesting experiments to be performed — fun experiments like tracking the spread of ideas “tagged” like migratory birds. It remains to be seen just how much of cultural evolution is explained by self-replication and selection of memes and how much is due to other forces, but the ground is very fertile for exploration.
RC: Can you pass on a few brief insights from your life beyond the fulfillment of dreams alá Getting Past OK?
RB: We all have various psychological drives, experiences that make us feel good or bad when we encounter them. One interesting prediction from memetics is that culture will evolve to give us more and more ways to fulfil these drives. The challenge for anyone who cares about making the most of life is to avoid the “drugs of the mind” — the cultural viruses that give us short-term gratification but otherwise soak up so much of our consciousness that we are diverted from a significant life purpose.
RC: Who do you admire writing about social culture, cultural evolution or just writing in general these days?
RB: I think Daniel Dennett is the greatest living philosopher and recommend all his books, especially Darwin’s Dangerous Idea. In fiction, Neal Stephenson has some wonderful scenarios of a memetically evolved future. Jim Halperin’s The First Immortal is a great look into an “extropian” future of optimistically advanced technology.
RC: Do you use Microsoft Word for word processing when writing your books?
RB: You mean there’s another word processor?
RC: What can you tell me about your novel in progress?
RB: I’ve discovered that fiction is a great way to get ideas across because so many more people read fiction than nonfiction. Also, you can get a novel made into a movie, so even more people will see it. You can look forward to some interesting ideas about memes in my novel.
I’m also co-authoring a book on leadership through self-expression with the great Randy Revell, who has been creating and leading personal effectiveness seminars for decades. His latest offerings are at contextassociated.com, and I highly recommend them.