15 days of fame: How the age of information can help solve problems

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BY FOREST LASSMAN


In 1968, Andy Warhol famously said, “In the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes”.

Almost 50 years later, that idea seems to have come true, with topics and celebrities rising to fame fast and falling just as fast. It’s a strange phenomenon, but those 15 minutes can create some great things.

One of the causes of these 15 minutes is the fact we live in an ultra contented world. We can watch Japanese television shows and communi­cate with someone from Sweden without leaving our homes. This leads to billions of people sharing new and stories, flood­ing our airways with information, funny videos, and more.

When somebody or something becomes popular, it spreads fast and world-wide, enabling millions to grow aware of a topic within a few days. What may start as large rallying point soon turns into yesterday’s news. Everything comes fast and keep coming. Missing a day’s worth of stories can leave you coughing in the dust. As millions of ideas fight to be heard, the ideas that be­come big are quickly buried under others.

The video “Kony 2012” spread at a rapid rate and gained tens of millions of views within a matter of days. The documen­tary spiked an interest in Joseph Kony, African warlord, but just a month after the original video came out, the spotlight vanished. The follow-up video failed to achieved even five percent of the initial video’s views, and two years later, Kony is still at large.

As bad as this may seem, Kony 2012 is not the only way these 15 minutes can be used.The problem with the “Kony 2012” fad was that the topic was too big to be solved within a few weeks, but many problems can be solved in that time frame.

By making a subject public for people to see, many more minds with differentiating viewpoints can work collec­tively, and this can often lead to great breakthroughs.

Researchers spent 15 years trying to decipher the Mason-Pfizer monkey virus, an AIDS causing virus; but when it was put online, others collab­orated in the virus’ research, decoding it in a matter of 10 days. Problems similar to this are solved on a day-to-day basis, and even if they aren’t solved during the given time period, they can have a great kick-start.

Recently, amyo­trophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) had the same short period of fame due to the ice bucket challenge. Even though it somewhat feels like a distant memory, the challenge raised over $100 million for the ALS foundation from over three million donors in 30 days. That money was over 30 times the previous year’s fund-rais­ing effort during the month, and even if next year doesn’t come close to this year, that money can be put to good use for many years to come. The challenge also likely inspired the general public to gain more insight into ALS.

A new generation may be inspired to look for new ways to cure this disease. Even if the majority of the popula­tion stops paying attention to a subject after its 15 minutes are over, it can inspire others to become deeply invested in the issue for years, and those people can continue to make a large impact in the long-run. Bigger starts live shorter lives, and right now those stars are exploding as fast as new ones can be created. As strange as these short periods of fame can be, they can help solve the world’s major problems.

 

Contact Forest Lassman, copy editor, flassman@jccc.edu

 

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