Today I had the pleasure of being patient zero and starting a suburban epidemic. No I am not talking about some obscure STD, or airborne virus, or even about Lyme Disease. In fact, I took steps to prevent that!
In this case, I am referring to an epidemic caused by the propagation of a viral idea.
I have long been toying with theories on viral ideas. No one denies their existence – songs that stick in your head, jokes that you have to pass on, etc, but there are precious few theories on the epidemiology of how they spread.
And now, I have seen the lawn mowing virus in action.
It worked like this. I decided MCS be damned, the boody grass was dangerously long and no one ese in the household was going to mow it. So it was time to glove, mask, and boot up and get off my butt to go outside and mow the lawn. Granted it needed doing and there are rain warnings in the forecast both of which provided a growth medium for the idea “I need to mow the grass.”
Interestingly, the man at the private home across the street then decided that he needed to mow his lawn. A phenomena I accredit to the original “virus” as I shall henceforth refer to it, with perhaps a subtle mutation to its makeup in the form of “my yard looks pretty bad compared to the mowed lawn across the street” although perhaps not articulated that clearly in the new mower’s head.
Then the guy at the house next to him broke out a mower, and the lady next to him, and a teenager in a yard across the street, and so on until the whole area was abuzz with lawn mowing.
As I sat thinking it over I realized that what I was seeing was a virus hopping from one head to the next and I began to try to think out other viral similarities…
There is a common growth medium in the form of ” Americans mow their lawns” which applies even if said American never steps out into said lawn…and there are sub-mediums in the form of “What-will-the-neighbors-think”, “my-yard-looks-scruffy”, “it’s-a-nice-day-to-mow-the-lawn” and so forth.
There is a “patient zero” in the form of the guy who mowed our lawn. Vectors of transmission such as the sight of the mower, the sound of the mower, the scent of mown grass. Symptoms in the form of people getting out mowers, gassing them up, checking oil levels, looking below the decks for grass clots, and finally mowing their lawns.
And like any virus, the virus eventual burns itself out. There can be conditions unfriendly to the virus, lack of gas, lack of oil, lack of mower, rainstorms, darkness, cold weather, the Final Four on TV.
Or it can be fueled further, a neighbor taunting another about his yard, large amounts of beer, a desire to show off a new John Deere.
So the virus spreads in patterns very much like a purely physiological illness. In a circle of exponential growth that terminates in accordance to conditions that are themselves functions of chaos mathematics.
You can chart a lawn mowing virus or a bad pop song the same way you’d chart Ebola Zaire.
There are also ways to tell if a vaccine has been introduced into the system, too. Say a crazy neighbor who hates lawn mowers or the fact you mow without a shirt on or mow at three in the morning and comes and stares at you balefully before calling the cops. Then the perfect circle of spread becomes notched as the virus you contracted from your neighbor dies within you. The graph then looks like a pie with a slice removed.
And there are co-morbids syndromes like leaf burning and weed whacking that accompany the primary disease.
Mutations are also notable – push mowers give way to riding mowers, give way to deck mowers, give way to tractors with tow assemblies in places with good growth media, or cycle down inversely in places with poor ones.
The areas near major thoroughfares, towns, or monied areas are always well mown. Prestige, a sense of competition, pride, and custom are strong in such areas. Ghettos are a different story.
But here we do see a difference between a physiological virus and a mental one. The conditions that allow a viral idea to flourish – health, money, a sense of tradition and culture, high levels of communication and socialization – are all notably absent in places where physiological viruses flourish.
With one noted exception – and frankly I am not sure this can be considered a viral idea or if it needs to be classed as a third virus – an emotional one, a so-called spiritual malaise? You tell me. I am thinking here of the mob mentality which whilst not physiological certainly cannot be said to be ideological, as rationality is the primary thing such a mental state lacks.
Or does mob mentality and the other conditions similar to it, mass “hypnosis”, mass hysteria, occupy more shadowy niches still? Mob thinking aside, the one real sticking point where viral ideas are concerned is the actual agency of transmission. As I said there is very little disputation over their existence but where is the agent?
For physiological illnesses there are viruses, protoviruses, self-replicating amyloidal proteins, prions, bacteria, and so forth but what causes a “viral” idea to hop from head to head?
I have heard cases made for binaural transmission, linguistic communication, kinesiological communication, and even ESP/telepathy. Then there is the very highly intellectual theory that our brains are quantum state computers running holographic programs (yes, widely accepted theory here – loads of books on it, I recommend for ease of reading one called The Holographic Universe or if you’d prefer highly erudite and well researched fiction try Neil Stephenson’s Snowcrash). There are many neurologists, physicists, human computer interaction people and neuro-physicists that believe that our brains might well be “bleeding over” in the fashion of poorly shielded wifi signals. The idea looks especially credible when you note that the most viral ideas are the least important and therefore the least guarded of our thoughts. Limericks, jokes, pop songs, TV jingles, daily tasks like fetching mail and mowing lawns.
All interesting to contemplate and damnable hard to prove.
I shall have to think further upon this but it looks like a possible case for viroid ideas that can be tested and charted with reasonably simple measures.