The thought occurs to me that there was a golden era of the Internet about 10 years ago. It is a surprising idea to look at the Internet that way. But there was a time when it seemed the Internet was ushering in a more egalitarian period. Egalitarian in terms of allowing more people to have voices and to have their talents accessible to everyone. We were finally getting an opportunity to discover the broader range of the world’s countless talents in all areas, such as arts, journalism, or opinions.
In many ways this has improved dramatically with readily available forums to submit content and make it available to the masses. Certainly there is a lot more high quality content being submitted by a large population of talented people. It is a thrill to discover new people as well as their creative innovations.
But still it seems something has changed. The celebrities have moved from their previous homes into the Internet and they have marketed themselves so that they have recovered there status of being known by more people than the sum of people who are aware of alternative talents.
We as a culture seem to gravitate to picking and choosing a single star that all of a certain group should keep track of. We may pay attention to others, but only in addition to the main stars of a particular area.
I don’t pay much attention to movies at all and yet when I glanced at certain items about the recent Oscars, it was disappointing to see so many faces and names I remember from years ago. We’re still captivated by them. No one else can take their place?
It is also distressing to watch the news and see basically the same faces as interviewers or on panels. Some faces that have been regulars for decades. Is it that hard for us to pay attention to a new face? Is it really so important that we get so-and-so’s take on something even though he/she has no hesitation to share his ideas on virtually any topic on any day?
There are a great many talents out there who can make great art. More importantly in news, there must be many more relevant thinkers on any particular topic than one person who comes up with something to say every day.
We as a culture adore celebrities. Individually, we tend to pay attention to the ones getting the most publicity and then we form an artificial relationship with that person so we want to see them at every opportunity. This makes them celebrities but that celebrity also crowds out everyone else.
This occurs all over. We have celebrity politicians whose continued re-election effectively becomes a hereditary position. People are not getting recognized and elevated by their pedigree primarily because of our continued attachment to their parents or elder relatives. My complaint is that it continues to be hard for someone new to come and be noted.
Sadly, it even occurs in the workplace. While there may be some value of seniority in terms of institutional knowledge and know-how, among even the same cohort there are celebrities, the ones that everyone recognizes at meetings invoking either joy or fear if those particular people show up. Other talents are tuned out if the celebrities are present. Other talents are dismissed if they in any way conflict with the celebrity staff.
It occurs socially as well. Working in a large open floor with countless low-walled cubicles, the same people can be heard talking at the same times every day. Every day they present more-or-less the attitude and perspective and yet either they seek out conversation or other seek them out for that conversation. At best these are 10% of the occupants. Everyone else might as well not exist.
Even the concept of employment itself has an element of celebrity. Jobs that need to be done are expected to be done by the people who are in the pool of the ones who managed sometime in the past to be employed. The option of seeking an outside talent for a specific task is not even thought of as a possibility. The job has to be done by the one who did something approximately like it before.
I certainly can see the logic of how a workplace has to be managed. But it is the way workplaces have been managed for centuries. Ten years ago, there was a hint that this may change. That we’ll engage with people on short notice based on the wide pool of talent in the world, not just to the ones we knew before (such as those we hired). There was a hint that maybe even 40-hour workweek perpetual employment to a single employer can become obsolete. I relished that idea.
I think of the Andy Warhol’s “15 minute of fame” quote as something for society to aspire to. We should live in a world where everyone has the opportunity to contribute and that will necessarily limit the time he will contribute. Instead the popular usage is that long term fame is the ideal to strive for and to reward others for, that someone with just a short fame is somehow inferior.
Placing so much long-term importance to a few celebrities robs us of the wealth we can have if we would have them compete on equal footing with unknown voices. We should allow ourselves to be satisfied that 15 minutes is sufficient fame.