Virus Goes Viral
In order to better understand a discussion of viruses and/or anything viral, we need to understand the definitions of the words. Virus means:
vi·rus [vahy-ruhs] noun, plural -rus·es.
1. an ultramicroscopic (20 to 300 nm in diameter), metabolically inert, infectious agent that replicates only within the cells of living hosts, mainly bacteria, plants, and animals: composed of an RNA or DNA core, a protein coat, and, in more complex types, a surrounding envelope.2. Informal; a viral disease.3. a corrupting influence on morals or the intellect; poison.4. a segment of self-replicating code planted illegally in a computer program, often to damage or shut down a system or network.
vi·ral [vahy-ruhl] adjective
The words virus and viral were first used to describe illnesses. As technology has advanced and people now have instant access to information, the words have morphed into technological references.
Since the words have morphed into other meanings it is thought provoking with the entendres they connotate. First, we have the traditional sense of the word: In the readings, virus is defined by Nobel Prize winner, Peter Medawar as “a piece of nucleic acid surrounded by bad news.” This kind of virus enters the body, may undergo multiple mutations and end up as a disease, potentially very harmful. This is an example of a virus going viral within the body.
Since these diseases are contagious, as people spread the disease it becomes “viral.” Oldstone discusses the concept of disease becoming viral throughout history. Small pox goes back as far as 10,000 B.C.; plagues were in China in 48 A.D and in Japan by 585 A.D. By 1000 A.D. smallpox had spread from Japan to Spain to Africa and to the Mediterranean Sea. Europe had outbreaks of Smallpox by the 16th century. It went on to Cuba then Mexico. Smallpox reached Hawaii by 1853. In North America the settlers even used the virus as a very early form of biological warfare by giving infected blankets to the Indians to wipe them out.
The first entendre is the use of the word virus for the infection of a computer. The first time the word virus was used in this sense, it was defining a self-producing program in a short story in Galaxy magazine by David Gerrold. He also used the term in his novel, When HARLIE Was One. “In that novel, a sentient computer named HARLIE writes viral software to retrieve damaging personal information from other computers to blackmail the man who wants to turn him off.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Computer_virus
The term virus eventually became the “catch all” phrase to describe all malware.
It is not known when the word viral was first used to mean circulating very quickly. The earliest use of the word was in reference to viral marketing and believed to be attributed to Tim Draper and Jeffrey Rayport from The Harvard School of Business. Rayport popularized the term in an article, The Virus of Marketing in 1996 for Fast Company. Then the term was used by Tim Draper and Steve Jurvetson of Draper Fisher Jurvetson in 1997 to describe Hotmail adding advertising to outgoing mail. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Viral_marketing
Now the word viral is connected to anything that is spread very quickly, however it is used mostly with videos. An example of a video that has gone “viral” with 88,841,994 hits since May 1, 2011 can be seen at:
The second entendre of the words virus and viral are the words themselves. Over time, since the words were first used to define a corruption in a computer and the rapid spread of information people have clung to the terms, making the words themselves viral.
It is interesting to me that the word virus alludes to something bad, but the word viral, as it is used in the digital world, alludes to something good.
As Oldstone relays in the readings, we still have new diseases that now can be spread very quickly with the rapid travel we have today. We also have the threat of biological warfare with countries housing numerous viruses, some manmade. In today’s world we will continue to have computer viruses and information becoming viral; Unfortunately the same is true for disease.