What is the Meme of the World?

I was having lunch recently with one of our favourite mentors, Ian Mirlin, a leading light in Canadian advertising. We were having a perfectly pleasant catch up about business, and then, in his usual Socratic way, he asked out of the blue, “Wahn. What is the meme of the world right now?”

What a question. The meme of the world? No one asks questions like that. I was completely unprepared. I took a gulp of my very overpriced coffee and an answer emerged in my mind…

I said to Ian (and I’m paraphrasing to make myself sound way more articulate than I was at lunch), “For a while, I think the meme of the world has been about the desire for almost god-like omniscience, aided and abetted by the Internet and our ever-improving technology for information and communication. We can have access to everything, anywhere, in no time at all. It’s like having a genie in a bottle, with no limit to the number of wishes.

But just as every action has an equal and opposite reaction, every meme has an equivalent but opposing meme. As our desire for everything, anywhere, in no time is increasingly satisfied and as our relationship to technology and devices gets deeper and deeper, an opposing tendency emerges. The desire for tactile, personal, hand-crafted, unique.”

Vinyl record collections are growing. “Bespoke” has entered the vernacular (an entire floor of the flagship Harry Rosen store in Toronto is devoted to bespoke men’s suits). Custom publishing is in vogue. Retail is emerging in New York, London, and Toronto that is uniquely hand-crafted. Even Levi’s is joining this bandwagon, with sub-brands like “Made and Crafted”. Gourmet and organic restaurants, some of them quite original, are popping up everywhere.

And as emerging economies become more prosperous, I guarantee you that we’ll see them going through a similar evolution, from the “omniscience meme” to the “hand-crafted” meme. As the ancient Greeks taught us, even a god wants to spend time as a flesh and blood human, tasting food, drinking wine, having sex, and enjoying all the senses in a visceral way. Gods and men cannot live on technology alone.