Monday, October 15th, 2007

Five-Minute Celebrities

Five-Minute Celebrities
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Warhol wasn’t even close, but who could blame him? Could he have even fathomed a world of Twitter and Facebook when he spoke of everyone in the future being famous for fifteen minutes? Today, I look to our pop culture habitat with the lens focused on a new being… the F.M.C.; please allow me to explain.

I had never before touched that button

Charlotte (not her real name) contacted me on Facebook three months ago. She claimed to be a friend of a friend, and I felt it would be rude to not accept her friend request. In the weeks that followed, Charlotte and I never made a personal connection of any sort; nevertheless, I found my news-feed bombarded by her links, stories and activities.

Last week, I reached a limit. After what seemed like her thirtieth post of the day, I realized that Charlotte simply had simply gone too far. I then did something I had never done before; I pressed the “remove friend” button. I don’t believe Charlotte was ever really my friend. We never shared a single piece of meaningful dialogue. She simply wanted to broadcast her life through the availability of new technology. Charlotte was a Five-Minute Celebrity.

The F.M.C.

Karl (not his real name either) is, in my mind, the uber-F.M.C. (Five-Minute Celebrity). I met him three years ago, and his ability to engage a room in discussion was noteworthy. Since then, I’ve come to see Karl here, there and everywhere—especially online, where he posts on Flickr, writes blog articles about his daily activities, and documents his attendance of industry parties and conferences. I don’t really know Karl, but I sure am “connected” to him.

We share ties on Facebook, Linkedin and a host of other sites; meanwhile, I seem to be bombarded by notes about his travels, happenings and “connectedness”. The funny part is that I still don’t know what he really does, outside of talking about… well… himself. Don’t get me wrong, I bet he’s a great guy; however, I sometimes wonder if he has any interest in the people he connects with, aside from his desire to self-promote. (This, I admit, is a skill that he is getting very good at.)

The tools are better

Mick (you guessed it, not his real name) would be known regardless of social networking systems. He’s chatty, complimentary (often overly so), and makes a deliberate effort to build his personal network. He’s also involved in industry-associations, participates on local boards, and teaches at a local school. Regardless of the forum, you’re sure to find Mick working his way to the centre of it, where he will make himself heard.

With the advent of all of these new tools though, Mick is more than just “kind of known”; he’s in fact a small-time celebrity. I say this as I last week stumbled upon his own (self-authored one may presume) Wikipedia entry.

On one hand, I have to appreciate Mick’s tenacity; on the other, however, it seems a little like persistent self-congratulation. The point that I can’t argue is that he’s making the tools work for him, and likely sees substantial benefits from such actions.

With all of these emerging methods to broadcast one’s message, we can increasingly make ourselves heard. More than that, the web allows most all of us to elevate ourselves to a level of recognition, deserved or not.

Where do we go from here?

Like most commodities, fame may very well lose its value as it becomes democratized. In today’s world, one’s desire to become known, even if for limited accomplishments, is within a few short steps. Then of course, does such recognition really matter when it’s freely available and often representative of only modest achievements?

While some may find the emergence of the F.M.C. to be a nuisance, I argue that they individually do little actual harm. On a global level, however, I fear that this emergence is indicative of a gloomier trend. This increasingly narcissistic world, where Paris Hilton commands greater recognition than Vladimir Putin, leads us to disengage from anything meaningful, by filling our minds with pointless drivel.

Who needs the news, when we have Facebook’s news-feed? Why bother with pesky world events, when we can make moral judgments on Lindsay Lohan’s DUI arrests? Who needs to do anything significant, when we can be famous for being famous?

If we are to fear information, let us fear its abundance. Here we are, drowning in a swell of self-broadcasting and moment-by-moment updates of endless minutiae that rarely leads to a better understanding of anyone or anything. Is this the new world that technology promises?

The quest for meaning

Now, I love the promise of social networking. It’s fun to share ideas with others and make or renew connections. I’d even argue that this improved level of ability to connect with one another is one of the most important developments of the web. In fact, (gratuitous plug here) at smashLAB we’re nearing the launch of a service called MakeFive that I believe will help people engage in interesting discussions with others, even if initially on a somewhat trivial level.

That being said, as this nascent technology increasingly becomes integrated in our daily lives, I believe we will start to find ourselves putting a higher premium on substantial connections—those with peers, friends, and at very least, with people we know. Although some will likely disagree, I hold to the belief that connections are not to be measured by their number, but rather, by their fortitude.

Perhaps I am concentrating too greatly on what is a naturally occurring, and self-correcting, trend in which we all broadcast in one fashion or another. But where does it end? I fear that one day, we might reach the end of an article and find that some bald fellow with thick-rimmed glasses actually thinks his opinions might matter. (Oops.)

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Comments & Trackbacks

  1. Hah. I just removed a "Karl" (I'm wondering if it's the same person) from my Twitter friends because the bombardment of their blog entries and conference activities was no longer manageable. Signal-to-noise ratio, and all that. It felt good to do that, and in fact, I even posted a tweet about how good it felt to do that :) Maybe I should tweet this post :)

  2. eric smith says:

    great read. the power of the internet is truly amazing. it has changed the world.

    (thumbs up)

  3. Great post. I agree with your prediction that the significance of connections made on the web will become more important as the number of self promoters snowballs. I myself have entered a phase where limiting the amount of content that makes its way into my web-experience is very important.

  4. scottyo says:

    Many say that the Web has democratized publishing for the world with the advent of html, web logs, wiki’s and the like. The world in this case refers to generous estimate of 1/5 of the total global population. Of that group, it is safe to say that the majority are average users with enough technical skill to consume content produced by a small minority of the technorati. I believe that we are still a ways away from a point where we can say the Web has had a true positive global impact on us as a whole.

    We are in the beginnings of a transition where the Web 2.0 can and should foster applications and social networking to transfer information that is useful and purposeful not just for better business, return on investment and increased value in stock. What about positive environmental change, true democracy and government accountability, balanced global economics, fair trade and societal benefits for all classes? These should also be imperatives we should strive to improve using our technology.

  5. I'm with you there Scott. :-)

  6. all i want to know is, when the zombies attack, where will all my "friends" be?

    replying to scottyo's comment: i spent over a month in china this year (back and forth). even with the proliferation of brick and mortar pirated DVD stores to spas that cater to the newly local rich, there was still the wall that stops information from the outside world. i could not log in to my blog, see flickr (there are work arounds) or access certain news sites. what will happen next year with the olympics? it will be controlled by an iron fist. already the beggars have disappeared from the streets, repatriated back to the countryside. they are playing with cloud seeding to clear the polluted air in beijing. even trying to control the water temps in the ponds so that the lotus will bloom a month later for the olympics. controlling access to the internet is the easiest of their tasks.

  7. Pingback: My Space And Beyond » Blog Archive » Five-Minute Celebrities

  8. KLIM says:

    between Facebook, Flicker,Behance, second life, my space and all the other networking sites and forums individual world wide visibility is expanding but there is still work to do. pretty soon they will have to perfect the I-CLONE in order to manage peoples networking efforts

    great article


  9. yani says:

    Great article., especially the part about the bombardment of trivial information. Makes one appreciate the time away from it all.

  10. dt says:

    Great post. I can relate with The F.M.C

    I have personally dropped people on my twitter, facebook feed because of all the chat/ad/poke/play/rant spam.

    Sometimes I wonder why do people follow the things other people have to say, but strangely they seem to do.

    Perhaps its another form of voyeurism? Regardless what you say has to be good or removing is just too easy.

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