Friday, January 6, 2017

Death reads People Magazine, too

From the smart folks at MIT: will even or famous people die this year than last?
For centuries, the growth in famous people has been outpacing that of global population. As you can see in this paper and in this short talk , the number of famous people born in a given year used to be a fraction of global population prior to the invention of printing, and also, for the 200 years after printing (although it was a larger fraction). Since the late seventeenth century, however, the number of famous people born in each year has been proportional to the square of global population. That is, the number of births of famous people, divided by the population of the world at that time, has been increasing linearly over time. Moreover, that proportionality constant has increased with the introduction of new communication technologies. The slope that emerged with the popularization of shorter forms of printing, like journals and newspapers in the late seventeenth century, increased with the introduction of new communication technologies, like film, radio, and television. So in the twentieth century we produced famous people at a rate we never did before...
But we may be approaching peak fame:
Should we expect the number of famous people who die each year to continue to increase? Probably for the next years, but not forever. The rise of communication technologies in the last six centuries, from printing to social media, has increased the number of people who see their work amplified and remembered (although fame is fleeting, meaning that not everyone that is famous in a time period is remembered forever). Despite this rise in communication technologies, we may soon reach a time when what will limit the number of famous people we produce will no longer be our means of communication, but our limited attention and human memory. Maybe, we are already there.

1 comment:

  1. Given what passes for fame these days, we could probably a tad fewer famous folk.