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Almost Almost Famous

I’d like to augment Warhol’s quote about everyone getting 15 minutes of fame by adding “if you dramatically lower your standards for fame.” And I think we already have lowered our standards. Fame used to mean greatness, honor, and acclaim. Now, not only have we conflated fame and infamy, we no longer require the same broadly-distributed recognition and popularity typical of yesterday’s esteem.

Today’s fame rides a sliding scale: Were you on the local news for 30 seconds? Local-famous. Did you help tear down a goal post after your school won the game? Campus-famous. Did your YouTube video get more than 1000 hits? Internet-famous.

Lame-ous. This isn’t even a big fish in a small pond. It’s a small fish in a small pond that made it back from the other side without getting eaten alive. But we can be so hungry for recognition — any recognition — that we take what we can get, let it go to our heads, and mistakenly think we can grow a little recognition into a lot.

You might actually get a lot of this newer, easier fame, because you don’t have to work as hard for it. Fame used to be leading roles in the movies, or fronting pop bands in the Top 40. Fame used to be a full-time job. Now you just need a link to your blog post from a prominent tech website — prominent in a very niche demographic, that is. Or you might get a shout-out on Twitter from a popular podcaster. Sure, your family still doesn’t know who he is, but all your other tech buddies and a few new strangers (also on Twitter) do. And now they think you’re a little cooler because they all look up to this person who suddenly knows your name. Today’s fame distracts you from what earned your minor celebrity in the first place.

If we don’t have to work as hard to be “famous,” we all feel a little less like failures in our quests for recognition. But we still don’t get what we really want — what we all hope to get out of fame in the first place. Recognition doesn’t come with understanding. Fame brings recognition, but it often brings misunderstanding along for the ride. So let’s stop chasing after fame, even though it’s easier than ever to catch. Let’s put that energy, instead, into making ourselves understood.

The heading image is a Creative Commons-licensed use of a Flickr image.