What is it about?

Some social and engineered systems rely on fixed ideas, as well as technical components, in order to work. This paper shows how to identify these ideas, allowing system designers to modify their influence.

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Why is it important?

System analysts and designers have assumed that all ideas are brought into social and engineered systems by system users. Their role in system design and performance has therefore been ignored. Recognising fixed ideas (memes) as necessary functional components of systems allows analysts and designers new avenues to modify systems. This can support the improvement of beneficial systems (e.g. energy and food production and distribution) and the disruption of detrimental ones (e.g. crime and terrorism).


Despite its popular use to describe amusing images and slogans on the internet, the term 'meme' describes a fixed idea that is easily transmitted. Like genes, memes are replicators that convey information. However, rather than shaping the bodies of organisms, they shape culture. Recognising the functional role of specific memes in social and work systems offers new ways to shape the world in which we live and work.

Tony Carden

Read the Original

This page is a summary of: Accounting for memes in sociotechnical systems: extending the abstraction hierarchy to consider cognitive objects, Ergonomics, April 2019, Taylor & Francis, DOI: 10.1080/00140139.2019.1603403.
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