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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