"15 Minutes"

I’ve been thinking about the assertion that everybody has 15 minutes of Fame.

I’m sure this isn’t true, but it’s actually quite hard to disprove. If you find a counter-example, then they automatically become famous for not being famous – a bit like a googlewhack.

I wondered if you could get anywhere mathematically? We know the world has approximately 7 billion people – let’s assume that this is static for now.
This means for you need 7,000,000,000 x 0.25 fame hours, or 1,750 million fame hours, or 199,772 fame years for everyone to be famous for 15 minutes. However, the average life expectency is only about 70 years.

So if fame is exclusive, only 1 in 2,854 people will get their 15 minutes of fame in their lifetime, disproving the assertion.

On the other hand, if fame is non-exclusive, that means 2,854 people need to famous concurrently every 15 minutes, 24 hours a day, to satisfy the fame requirements of the current population. Or, over a given 24 hour period 274,000 people would need to be famous.

Clearly universal global fame is out straight away – 2,854 people is a lot. To list the names of the famous people on a given day would require around half a million words, or 5 normal length novels’ worth. In newspaper speak, perhaps 17,000 column inches, or 700 pages, and that’s without any sort of indication abut why they’re famous. And that’s each and every day, just to cover the current population of the planet.

So, let’s assume that fame is regional, but still exclusive (i.e. only one person can be famous at once). Let’s say that for me to qualify as famous, everyone else in my town needs to know my name for those 15 minutes. There’s about 160,000 of us in Harrogate, so this suddenly seems a bit more manageable now! If we assume each of those 160,000 people will be famous for 15 minutes, and let’s limit it to waking hours (10 hours a day), we now only need 4,000 fame-days for everyone to have their 15 minutes, or a little over 10 years. Clearly we can relax down to having 1 famous person per 7×15-minute slots to meet the life expectency figure.

If we go back to our non-exclusive example – we require 2,854 have to be famous concurrently every 15 minutes, and this seems reasonable at a global scale. There are something like 200 countries in the world, so that’s a mere 14 or so famous people per country per 15 minutes. It’s still a fairly unmanageable 336 people per day though – so we need to break it down a bit more.

Let’s take cities with more than 500,000 people, of which there are ~1,00 globally. That’s only 3 people every 15 minutes! Go down to cities of 150,000 people (i.e. about 3,000 globally), and we now need less than 1 person to be famous in a given city at any one time to meet the ascertion. Of course, we still need someone to be famous each and every 15 minutes. But also bear in mind that by limiting ourselves to cities, we’ve accounted for less than half the world’s population as consumers of fame.

So, yes, it is entirely possible for every person on the planet to be exclusively famous for 15 minutes in their lifetime, as long as they only need to be famous to people in the nearest city!