Top celebrities stay famous for longer

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  • 22 | NewScientist | 28 April 2012

    TECHNOLOGY

    IN THE age of live blogging, Twitter and the 60-second news cycle, Andy Warhols prediction that everyone would be famous for 15 minutes seems to have come true. The hungry news machine swallows ever more celebrities before spitting them out the other side into obscurity.

    Or has it? Google researchers used the Google News archive to study how fame has changed. They found that while the number of people in the news has increased as the volume of news has ballooned, the duration of their fame has stayed more or less constant over the past century or so.

    For the top 1000 celebrities in the news, time in the spotlight has actually increased since 1940. Using the number of times a persons name appears in the headlines each week as a proxy for their exposure, the Google

    team, led by Alex Fabrikant, measured fame in two ways. The first looked for spikes in public attention, defining the length of a persons celebrity as an interval surrounding their highest peak of fame. The second marker measured the longest continuous period in which the person is mentioned each week.

    With both methods the average person was famous for just one week the minimum necessary to appear in the results. For the top 1000, the average duration using the spike method was around three weeks until 1990, increasing to five by 2005. Results using the continuity method were slightly different, with a steady increase in the span of fame for the top 1000 from half a month before 1940 to two months in 2005. The team also checked out the top 0.1 per cent of celebrities

    and found similar results.Before tackling their research, which

    spanned news articles from 1895 to 2010, the Google team suggested that advances in communication technology and the increasing pace of modern journalism would shrink the duration of fame. In fact, while the rise of radio, television and the net had little effect on the average persons fame, it boosted the profile of megastars.

    That chimes with research by Nathanael Fast, a psychologist at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, who has previously investigated how celebrities stay famous. We live in a time when technology and access to information has really exploded, but what hasnt changed is our psychological need to connect with other people, and famous people become common ground for us to use to connect to each other in conversation, he says.

    So will further advances in technology continue to increase the fame of top celebrities? The research certainly hints that the increase in the length of fame has accelerated in the past decade, perhaps because celebrities can speak directly to their fans through social media.

    For example, take pop star Rhianna (see picture, above). Last week she shared her racy Hawaiian holiday snaps with 55 million fans on Facebook, doing the paparazzis work for them, while ensuring hundreds of tabloid headlines. She then used photo-sharing app Instagram to publish a picture of herself cutting up a white powder on a mans head, generating yet more coverage.

    It couldve gone the other direction, that as we have more access to Twitter and Facebook and other social media, the top famous people would no longer be necessary, says Fast, but that seems not to be the case. Warhols prophecy might be true, but were probably also spending 15 minutes each day following our favourite celebs on Twitter. Jacob Aron n

    Stars play the fame gameWe might all be famous now, but social media means mega-celebrities are bigger than ever

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    Famous people become common ground for us to use to connect to each other in conversation

    InsIghT Celebrity

    COMMONLY available laser pointers can zing data through the air across a room twice as fast as most USB cables or Wi-Fi routers. The new optical wireless promises to be cheap and easy to roll out in hospitals and other places where radio transmitters cannot be used.

    Engineers at the National Taipei University of Technology in Taiwan picked red and green laser pointers because they are cheap and easy to get hold of. The hardware used in a demonstration cost only about $600, says Hai-Han Lu, who led the work. Hobbyists could do this at home, he told New Scientist.

    The team replaced the pointers standard batteries with a power source that switched each laser off and on 500 million times a second, and aimed two pointers at a light-sensitive detector 10 metres away. After processing, the signals contained less than one error per billion bits, a sign of high-quality transmission. Combining the two signals yielded a billion bits per second, double the data rates of USB 2.0 or high-speed radio-based Wi-Fi (Optics Express, vol 20, p 9919).

    Fog, rain and snow make long-distance laser links through air impractical, but they could work for indoor use. A system along these lines could one day be useful for high-speed connections between smartphones. Jeff Hecht n

    Laser pointers make super-fast optical Wi-FI

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    Lover of the limelight

    120428_N_TechLast.indd 22 23/4/12 17:52:32