page 23, sentence 5: an autopsy

April 18th, 2004

The “page 23, sentence 5” meme (hereafter referred to as p23s5) caught my attention due to its pandemic spread through the blog community, and its relative virulence among my own little, largely meme resistant affinity group (affecting me, aidan, evan, and gus). Not to mention it’s about books, and I like books.

Your Basic Epidemiography

A little research showed that this particular contagion had been raging for nearly a full week in the meme prone LiveJournal community before we saw it on blogs (spreading at an astonishing rate no doubt due to the extreme proximity that the members of that community operate in, though it might also signal a dangerous lack of mimetic diversity to have the entire population so susceptible). The key inflection point for the blog community seems to be the April 11th posting on caterina.net; the highly connected nature of an “A-list” blogger pushing the population of exposed individual over the density threshold from isolated cases to epidemic. Researchers have traced this infection vector through to Long Story, Short Pier – April 8th who seems to be the key cross over individual (great comments btw., esp. Patrick’s). Though the blogging community norm of “partner notification” seems to be less ubiquitous on LJ, the short window period between infection and expression, made it relatively straightforward to follow this path back to cynnerth – April 6th. At this point the trail gets muddy, with conflicting stories. I refer you to Crushing Krisis’ groundbreaking epidemiologic footwork for more info.

My Personal Case History

Mean while, I was infected by a distaff branch, which I was able to trace, with some missing links, to stonemirror who seems to have been a major LJ infection vector for p23s5 which he refers to as the “Discordian Book Meme” – April 5th. (and he seems to be from Santa Cruz, as his next post is about Tom Bihn’s Locust St store!) Stonemirror points to artistic chaos as his initial exposure. Artistic Chaos is currently the earliest documented case of p23s5 that I can find, though she clearly refers to it as being common knowledge, leading us to believe that as of April 5th there must be at least a sub-population which is already experiencing a major outbreak. During my case history interview with AC, she mentions cynaguan as an earlier incidence, but, much like the confusion around cynnerth and seamusd, this happened behind closed doors, and as such is not available to a cultural outsider like myself.

An Earlier Viral Load

AC also mentions another fact which I had been picking up on, namely that p23s5 was a mutation of an earlier meme, p18s4. While waiting to hear back from AC, I realized that I had been exposed much earlier to this less virulent variation, by hepkitten on April 4th. If you examine hepkitten’s entry you’ll see that p18s4 is much more complex, even baroque variant on a meme referred to colloquially in the LJ community as a “survey”, “quiz”, or even “quiz thingy”. The complex payload, and fragile mimetic content seem to ensure that “quiz thingies” remain specific to the LJ population, preventing their transmission to the more hostile blog community (which shows a much greater susceptibility to the more deadly corporate media memes). It is indicative of this mimetic fragility that I found 4 mutations of p18s4, the two most common strains being regular p18s4, and p18s4-8, “page 18, sentence 4, but missing question 8”, which is what hepkitten has.

I was able to trace p18s4 as far back as April 2nd where we first start to see a spike in infections. Again there seems to be community awareness of the meme, which has potentially been operating at a maintenance level for quite a while before reaching critical density (density, as with most viruses, seems to be the key factor, though one or two mimetically promiscuous individuals can have a radical effect on spread early on). p18s4’s history before April 2nd, and the first mutation into p23s5 both remain a closed book to me, occuring as they do behind LJ’s inpentrable wall of privacy. (and after 2 hours of this I got bored)

The Good News

I can say that an infection of p18s4 seems to confer in most cases an immunity to p23s5. (really too early to get a decent control on whether the reverse is true) The other good news is there are a whole heck of a lot of people reading really excellent books out there. Results might be skewed due to the perfomative nature of p23s5, but just to know that that many people have that caliber of material close at hand is comforting, and reminds one that we’re living through a (probably brief) renissance of text.

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