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05/19/2010 Social Media: The Warhol Corollary

In 1968, Andy Warhol said "In the future, everyone will be famous for 15 minutes." Warhol was responding to the changing media landscape and how fame was evolving from the long-term stars of the 1930's and 1940's to the more fleeting stars of mass media.

So how does social media affect Warhol's statement? I have two suggestions.

In social media, everyone will be famous for 15 individual minutes; or
In social media, everyone will be famous for 1 minute.

Here's what I'm thinking:

A long time ago, when you were famous, you were famous for years. Either you were famous, or you weren't. When mass media reached its zenith in the 60's and 70's, you could be famous, but the length of time for fame started getting shorter and shorter  and would ultimately last only15 minutes).
In the social media age, we're reaching a very segmented audience, in short bursts. You might be famous to a very narrow group, or famous for a very short period of time thanks to blogs, Twitter or YouTube (about a minute).

The length of fame today is much less than it is in Warhol's prediction, which he made before the Internet came along.

I thought of this last month at a social media conference. The conference, which was great, had three types of speakers:
  • Super Stars - There were few of these, but everyone knew who they were as soon as they stepped on stage. Not only did we all know them, but they also truly wowed us. They would've been famous in the pre-Internet era.
  • Stars - Most people knew who they were and they were great on stage. Not as great as the superstars, but they definitely earned their 15 minutes.
  • Everyone Else - These were people that a few of us knew beforehand, but not many. They usually weren't that great on stage, but this group was a mix of both individual speakers and panelists. This was one of their minutes of fame (if they get 15 of them).

That last group intrigued me. A lot of them were doing truly amazing things. They used technology to be generous and to help people. They put in long hours for good causes. They had an idea, and they went for it.

Some of them also personified Warhol's statement to the hilt. One speaker was astounded that I didn't know who he was. Astounded because, as he informed me, he was "kind of a celebrity." Chalk up a minute to this person. Another speaker looked flabbergasted at a group of us when we admitted that, no, we hadn't read her comment on someone else's blog. Clearly her comments were more important than the blog itself! Chalk up another minute.

In social media, that minute goes quickly and reaches few of us. It's one thing to appreciate what someone else does but another to award the "fame" badge. People can enjoy the minute or minutes that come but should recognize that they pass quickly out of memory, or that they reach many of us. Or they can drape themselves in Warhol's mantle of fame and end up looking kind of silly.

If social media is about generosity, content and sharing then who really cares about fame? 




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