Monday, December 16, 2013

Measuring Fame

Famometer? Fame-o-Meter?1 Fameter?2

Fame and fortune are the most important measures of human worth. But how do we quantify these things? Fortune is easy, as it can be measured by the number of houses or garage elevators you own. But what about fame?

In Human Accomplishment, Charles Murray uses comparative space in reference works as a way of measuring relative significance of historical figures and events. The more ink you get, the more notable your contribution. Eric Schulman relies on search engine hits as a measure of fame, and Leslie Lamport takes a variation on this to measure celebrity.

Of course, measurements based on search engine results are going to be biased in favor of geekier celebrities. How else could Steve Wozniak have been picked as a contestant on Dancing With the Stars?3

So what measurements are we to use? I’m afraid I don’t have a conclusive answer to report at this time. However, the following metrics might be useful.
  • Journalistic attention, measured in centimeters4
  • Auction price of creative detritus (scribblings/doodles/outtakes) (A mediocre Jane Austin watercolor portrait just sold for $270,000; Christopher Tolkien seems to have published every scrap of paper his dad ever wrote on.)
  • Number of days of news dominance after death (Nelson Mandela is going on his second week, not counting spin-off stories about Barack Obama’s selfie, Ted Cruz’s walk-out and some unknown sign language imposter.)
  • Frequency of copyright infringement
  • Likes or Followers on Facebook? Twitter?
  • Appearances on The Tonight Show or Saturday Night Live
  • Paternity suits (or, in this egalitarian age, maternity suits)
  • Short list for Dancing With the Stars
  • Pictures with wrongly attributed quotes on Facebook

Research is ongoing, and results will be posted here as available.

1 “Fame-o-Meter” sounds like an amusement park attraction.
2 “Fameter” sounds like a measure of how hungry you are.
3 If you know who Steve Wozniak is, you know what I mean. If not … well, see what I mean?
4 To be scientific, we use centimeters instead of inches.5
5To be really scientific, use centimetres.

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