Did you get that? Memes are those pesky distractions you get when you are moving through the internet, something catches your attention, and, suddenly, you are off course. Clearly, I don’t get distracted enough or I would not have missed The Extreme Diet Coke & Mentos Experiments and Build Your Own Demotivational Calendar. Had I come across this “meme,” featuring one of my heroes, I would have been guilty of assisting its “virality:” Mr. Rogers Remixed: Garden of Your Mind. But believe it or not, I had no idea that number one on the list of “50 favorite memes” is the meme “Be Like Bill,” for which I am flattered, sort of. Be Like Bill is “a passive-aggressive meme, featuring a stick figure, that comments on people's life choices.” For example, “This is Bill. Bill is on the Internet. Bill sees something that offends him. Bill moves on. Bill is smart. Be Like Bill.” I guess that is what happens when I see a post from a familiar anti-biosolids activists.
Maile and I were discussing viral internet postings last week. I mentioned I had heard an interview on TED Radio Hour with internet marketer/blogger Seth Godin. Godin’s website urges us to “Go make something happen,” which I try to do every day, but with small effect. In his TED Radio Hour interview, What makes an idea go viral , Godin says that for ideas to go viral they need be “remarkable.” That is, the idea or product is so engaging that people are motivated to “remark” to family, friends and others about the idea. Hence, spontaneous person-to-person remarks make the idea go viral.
In our biosolids world, very few of us have the goal for our biosolids to be “remarkable,” because the remarks are usually of the wrong kinds, and they go viral for the wrong reasons. That is what we need to change. We need to tell our “remarkable” stories, and we need positive viral results.
If there is a meme that biosolids managers might be able to embrace for themselves, when confronted by media and local opposition, it is “haters gonna hate.”
I was reminded of a paper I presented at the 1998 WEF RBC Opening General Session, “The Horror, Humor and Heroes of Biosolids.” I opened up with a news article that featured a very special biosolids utilization outlet: hamburgers. Fortunately, Google has archived the article from World Weekly News: The World’s Only Reliable News. You can read it for yourself. “Potty Patties: Hamburgers made from raw sewage are a big hit in Japan.”
Back in 1998 I had tracked down and reported on the very, very small kernel of truth behind this story. Here is what I wrote: “The Japanese actually did undertake this research! Mr. Tomozane, in an email message to me, writes ‘We have now completed the project of creating artificial meat from the sludge left over after waste water treatment and have a real product. We have both dried out meat for immediate usage and we also preserve the meat by storing it in vacuum packs… We have further plans to investigate and research into new areas of using extracted protein for valid purposes.’ “
Have you seen the short film Gut Hack? Biohacker Josiah Zayner has been plagued by gastrointestinal pain: “Rather than swigging some Pepto-Bismol, Zayner has other ideas, searching for someone ‘hopefully really athletic and attractive’ to swap out bacteria with to see if it’ll improve his health.” He swallowed home-made capsules of donated feces. His gut microbiome was transformed, and he was restored to good gastrointestinal health.
Popular culture is embracing the gut microbiome and its effect on our health. A Johns Hopkins website describes Fecal transplantation (or bacteriotherapy):“This is the transfer of stool from a healthy donor into the gastrointestinal tract for the purpose of treating recurrent C. difficile colitis.” We learn from the Open Biome website about Fecal Microbiota Transplantation, and we learn How to Own Your Gut Bacteria and Fix Leaky Gut Syndrome. Even more extreme, in line with “Gut Hack,” we can learn The Power of Poop, with “DIY Fecal Transplants at Home.” At home?!
I sense from the “meme” interest in this topic that we may be witnessing in society decreasing “fecaphobia,” broadening interest in the cycle of wastewater, and newly positive associations with “germs.” AsapSCIENCE, with funding by SquareSpace (coincidentally MABA’s new website host) produced this supportive description of The Poop Cycle. I can tell you from personal experience how exciting it was to receive my gut microbe profile from American Gut; I have 13 times more organisms of the genus Prevotella than is typical in the U.S. NYC Radiolab, which has done the biosolids industry great service by producing two programs: Poop Train and )The Sludge at the Bottom of the Sea), this past week featured a story, Funky Hand Jive, describing the transmission of microbes by handshakes.
Radiolab’s special guest for this “handshake” show was astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson. Dr. Tyson is one of the nation’s most recognized science popularizer, filling holes left by Carl Sagan’s death and David Attenborough’s age. The 1 May 2017 issue of Chemical and Engineering News acknowledged Dr. Tyson’s importance, in a commentary by the 2017 American Chemical Society president Allison A. Campbell, Communicating science effectively to the public. Her concern, reflecting on the March for Science demonstrations this past Earth Day, was that “Social media, predominant as they are today, amplify the perceived risks of communicating with the nonscientific public.” She urged us to move past the perceived risk and instead to commit to communicating the science behind our work. She suggested we adopt four principles: understand the audience, tell good stories, speak plainly, and play the long game.
We certainly have a way to go, as we prefer to talk to ourselves, tell complicated stories, use jargon, and worry about tomorrow’s news articles.