Computer viruses emerged in the 1980s. But in the internet era, we decided not to beat viruses, but to join them. "Going viral" became the goal of any piece of content, from a movie to a Facebook post. Bill Wasik is the author of And Then There's This: How Stories Live and Die in Viral Culture. He explains that the metaphor of virality goes back to Richard Dawkins coining the term "meme" as a parallel for gene, a biological idea about how culture spreads. He also mentioned that it was like a virus. What has Wasik learned about how things go viral? "Well, there's cats, and porn," he laughs. "Once we get beyond the cat/porn industrial complex, it's stuff that hits us very quickly and speaks to the relationships we already have." Which is why funny things spread quickest: "We want to make our friends laugh." But Wasik has become skeptical of the viral metaphor. "'Virus' conjures up a passive group of spreaders and imagines that the creative act is all – if you craft the thing in just the right way, it compels people to spread it," like a highly contagious organism. "But we're in the opposite situation. Things can spread quickly in this truly viral way but the reason is that the spreaders have a lot more agency. They call the shots more."

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