We’re All Getting a Little Bit Famous

Jay Cousins and I near the Creative Commons Nordic tour's end in Grindavík, Iceland.

A couple weeks ago I returned from touring with Jay Cousins in Denmark, Sweden, Norway and Iceland – meeting different groups of people enthusiastic about alternatives to monetary value exchange and the connection between such alternatives and Creative Commons. I surprised myself seeing how passionately I spoke about Creative Commons, realizing in the process of the tour just how fundamental it has been to use CC licenses in our last year’s worth of video productions, as well as the critical role CC licenses play in KS12’s business model.

After spending a couple weeks busy with other projects, it was off to Bonn at the end of last week to present The Future of Money once again – this time at the Alanus Wi.n.d. Symposium, a two-day conference about new perspectives on the economy. Alanus is an interesting school, offering a unique mix of arts, philosophy and business studies.

Having had some space from the Creative Commons oriented theme of the Scandinavian tour, I took the Alanus symposium as an opportunity to touch on an idea I’ve been mulling over for some time now. I’ve been interested in the way in which social media are mediating our lives to such a pervasive extent that Warhol’s maxim of “15 minutes of fame” is now a mundane aspect of daily life. The truth is we’re not just famous for 15 minutes. Many of us have in fact succumb to some of the pitfalls which were previously symptomatic of celebrities, in what might be deemed varying degrees of semi-permanent micro-fame. This type of fame is manifest in Facebook friends, Twitter followers, and other nascent metrics of the emerging social economy. In a certain sense, we’re all getting a little bit famous.

The upshot? Our attention is scarce; our inbox is overflowing, we’ve got too many bookmarks to ever re-visit, friend-requests from people we don’t know, and we can simply forget our RSS readers: they’ve been stockpiling 1000s of unread articles that have been moldering for months since we finally started using Twitter more. This strain on our attention isn’t caused by our rockstar personalities, outrageous fashion preferences or some other newsworthy aspect of our lives, but rather as a side-effect of fairly average participation in social media. Warhol could never have guessed that the guys who’d make everyone micro-famous would be silicon valley nerds obsessed with devilishly addictive social media software – in Warhol’s time the word “software” probably sounded like a good name for a limited edition of Claes-Oldenburg-inspired pop-art dinner utensils.

When we really focus on what we value, it’s increasingly those moments where life is undocumented, offline, unplugged – in a word: focused. Keeping that focus is a matter of delicate balance and discipline, a task not made easy by the flood tide of digital distraction waiting to bathe us in noise every time we boot up.

When your reputation can be valued as currency, your attention becomes your most precious asset.

4 Responses

  1. I think the best representatives of undocumented time are babies. A useful reminder that we really don’t know anything so we may as well drool and enjoy.

  2. Warhol understood the mechanics of fame in the 20th century as well as anyone … pulled backed the curtain and showed us all the factory behind celebrity.

    His ’15 minutes of fame’ quote was still deeply rooted in the logic of the broadcast era. By the end of his life, he got bored with the phrase, and with a simple twist used it to cast a light on what was coming:

    “In 15 minutes everyone will be famous.”

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