Internet, Identity, and Temporary Popularity

The advent of the internet has completely changed the way we think about identity and fame.  It is now so easy to be instantly famous worldwide, and yet still be completely unknown.  Take, for example, the following:

Who are these two guys?  You probably recognize them as the Star Wars Kid and the Numa Numa guy from YouTube fame.  They are infamous and easily recognizable, yet who are they?  Does anyone know who they really are, what their names are, where they’re from?   No.  They are both famous and unknown.  That is what the internet has done, it has given us a new breed of celebrity who are well-known only in their small sphere and completely unknown outside of it.

The internet has also made celebrities much more approachable, or at least given the general public the illusion that celebrities are approachable.  With Facebook fan pages and Twitter profiles for celebrities, people can write to their favorite celebrities and feel like they are actually forming some sort of relationship with them.  And it seems like some people would do anything to touch that level of fame and celebrity, even if so very briefly.

This is especially true of Twitter.  From my own Twitter experience, it seems there is a large proportion of Tweets that are either by celebrities, and then being retweeted by others, or they are @ celebrities asking for a retweet from them.  That is something I have never really understood.  Why are there so many people begging for celebrities to RT them?  And it’s not like the tweets they want celebrities to retweet are all that profound or spectacular, most of them are just in the format “@randomfamousguy plz RT plz plz plz! it wud mean sooooo much 2 me! kthxbai!” and so the celebrity retweets that asinine tweet and we are all a little bit dumber for reading it.

And then there are those who try to become Trending Topics on Twitter.  Some of them coming up with (sometimes fake?) sad stories about why they want to be Trending Topics.  What do these people hope to accomplish by becoming Trending Topics?  Why is this such a big deal?  I guess as Oscar Wilde said, “The only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about.”

So, the internet has completely changed what it means to be famous.  It used to be that you had to accomplish something in order to be famous.  We had famous movie stars, great actors who starred in classic films, or famous sports heroes, athletes who outperformed all others and won prestige through their athletic prowess, or famous authors who wrote stories or poems and created books that were well loved by all.  Now, to become famous you just need a webcam and a YouTube account and do something stupid that will be talked about over the watercoolers of coporate America for about a week, or a Twitter account and then mercilessly flood all celebrities (no matter how minor or how long ago they were celebrities) begging for some kind of response or validation of your efforts.

We are demanding that political Washington stay out of our bedrooms, yet we invite anyone with an internet connection to come and see what we do every minute of the day.  We get all up in arms about social networking sites and their privacy policies, but that concern for privacy hasn’t stopped us from posting our personal details in the first place.

Oh well.  Internet, fame, identity, privacy.  These are words we will have to define and redefine as we consider their implication in a world where we can know exactly what is going halfway around the world as well as what is happening in the house next door.

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