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COMM 3342 Viral Media – 2/1/12 The Ghost Map and Media

1 February 2012, 4:35

The key defining feature of commutative disease, more so than its frequent deleterious effects on the body, is its ability to infect and expand exponentially from host to host. So also is the pattern of social media. When an individual meets a net artifact, assuming the artifact takes root in the person’s mind, that person can then spread the artifact through referral or copying or parody to many others.

But the process by which an artifact, and a disease, can spread depends on the existing paths and connections between individuals. In the Cholera outbreak in Soho, V. cholorae could only infect a human by way of ingesting infected waste. Since a human would never knowingly or willingly consume excrement, the disease would normally have few opportunities to propagate, unless infected waste made its way into the water supply of a major population center.

In the case of the Soho outbreak, the Broad Street pump specifically was contaminated by way of a nearby cesspool. It’s worth noting the cesspool in question could only be efficiently accessed by a select few residents, and ultimately came to be infected with Cholera by way of soiled diapers from an infected infant. All that was necessary to infect the water supply of many people (larger than normal, considering the pump’s otherwise stellar record for quality) was the waste of a single infant.

And of course, only those who drank from that pump within a few days of the infant’s infection were infected, whereas those who drank from private wells or other pumps or subsisted on alcohol were unaffected. Some residences were wholly passed over while their neighbors died on masse, because the disease came about through a connection to a single source.

In much the same way, a social artifact can only spread to different people if there is a means by which people could see it. A video or image could be no less worthy of meme status, yet go nowhere because it existed only on an obscure page in the darkest corner of the net. If, however, a sudden influx of visits to the artifact, perhaps by a new connection linking it to the masses, then the meme could begin.

Likewise, an artifact cannot reasonably reach an audience if it involves, or is situated in a particular area, that the audience in question has no interest in or doesn’t frequent the area. A meme related to a Korean MMO likely won’t gain much ground with fans of hard core first person shooters. By contrast, if specific interests frequently overlap, a meme has a chance of migrating from one to the other. And sometimes, a particular group can develop interest in two subjects that would not typically have overlapped, and memes can cross over unexpectedly.

  1. One of the main reasons why this disease is still able to be in existence today, is not just because there isn’t a vaccination for it, but because our world is still populated in some areas that still have human waste removal or water sanitation regulations that would be comparable to London’s during the time period of their massive cholera breakouts. However they did not remove the disease with vaccinations and the Londoners were only able to rid their country of it when they finally had an effective system to fix these issues. Agreeably stated the Broad street break out is a perfect example of how fast something can spread if it is allowed to get such a “broad” assortment of different audiences. Just as easily as something like a Meme could end up being successful in going viral, or end up flopping hard core by not attracting any audiences. Cholera and Memes can seem to have similar qualities because they both need to have an adequate way in which to reach its audiences. For both of them failing to reach a massive amount of different audiences means they will eventually die off and become extinguished.

  2. It’s interesting when you point out “Some residences were wholly passed over while their neighbors died on masse, because the disease came about through a connection to a single source.” If we compare this to the millions of viruses or social media hacking’s that occur each day today, they still come from only one source. For example, a hacker may send a link out to a massive number of people on Facebook or Twitter, but the only ones that seem to get infected are those who actually click on or open the link. I guess the major difference with the Cholera outbreak was the technology. The technology we have today allows for information to spread virally! When someone’s social media account is compromised, all the user has to do is notify their friends or followers not to click on the link, perhaps change their password and everything seems to adjust back to normal. In a sense, was the Ghost Map was the technology that helped eliminate the virus, it just wasn’t the fastest method to save lives.

  3. Your post is well-written, Ben. For the future, try to extend the analysis even further. What does it mean that there are these parallels between social media and disease? What can we learn about one or the other by drawing this comparison?

    Also, don’t forget about the ways in which images and links can enhance your posts.

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