Treebeard's Stumper Answer
Fifteen Minutes of Fame
In 1968, artist Andy Warhol said: "In the future everyone will be world famous for fifteen minutes." That's become a cliche, but I want to take it straight. Back then, the world population was about 3.5 billion. Now it's almost 6.3 billion, so do we only get
15 x 3.5 / 6.3= 8.3 minutes of fame? Offhand, there's only time for 365.25 x 24 x 60 / 15= 35,064 people a year to get their 15 minutes. Make any assumptions you want about fame and population, but spell it out and show your work How much fame can we really expect? Does the DMS Talent Show count?
Here's a simple questionnaire about fame that I'll give to my students at school. You can also do this here on the Web if you have email support on your computer or network. This is a primative email form, and you may get an ugly message from Outlook; but I think it's harmless.
Did Andy Warhol really say that? Where and when?
What else is slipping away as the world population grows?
With 6.3 billion people on the planet, with an average lifespan of 75 years, we can each be famous for
75 x 365.25 x 24 x 60 x 60 / 6.3 billion= 0.38 second. We can each have our 15 minutes of fame if we share the moment with about 2,400 other people around the world. Fame is a slippery notion that includes respect, celebrity, and notoriety. Is total fame limited, so that a few increase their share at the expense of the rest of us? Maybe it's enough to be famous for 15 people if they are the right people? I'm sure the real question isn't how much fame we can each expect, but food and dignity.
Different assumptions give different answers to this stumper, but they are remarkably close. I ask my DMS students to show their work and units, so I will too:
world population = 6.3 billion people average lifespan = 75 years 365.25 day 24 hour 60 min 60 sec 75 years x ---------- x ------- x ------ x ------ 1 year 1 day 1 hour 1 min second fame = -------------------------------------------------- = 0.38 ------ 6,300,000,000 people person 60 sec 15 min x ------ 1 min shared = ---------------- = 2,368 people second 0.38 ------ person
Different assumptions give different answers. As I write this, the Population Reference Bureau (PRB) estimates that the world population is 6,214,891,000 and...
- If we each get our moment of fame at birth, we can expect...births per year = 133,144,457 people 1 year 365.25 day 24 hour 60 min 60 sec second fame = ------------------ x ---------- x ------- x ------ x ------ = 0.24 ------ 133,144,457 people 1 year 1 day 1 hour 1 min person
- If we each get our moment of fame at death, we can expect...deaths per year = 53,930,540 people 1 year 365.25 day 24 hour 60 min 60 sec second fame = ------------------ x ---------- x ------- x ------ x ------ = 0.59 ------ 53,930,540 people 1 year 1 day 1 hour 1 min person
Being in the same order of magnitude is close enough for this project. Note that population is rising and arable land is shrinking. A lot seems to depend on increasing productivity, and that is not automatic. This is a silly stumper that grows profound as you think about... food rather than fame. That's the point.
I gave my questionnaire to my students at school with ten minutes of work time. The results don't mean much, but they are a slice of life from middle school kids smart enough not to take it too seriously. I massaged their answers into my own categories. Many kids gave multiple answers or none at all, so don't bother adding up the counts.
1. Do you want to be world famous? (count) Yes 35 No 3 Don't Care 20 3. How likely is it that you will get your 15 minutes of fame? For Sure 3 Somewhat Likely 12 Maybe 28 Not Likely 16 Not A Chance 1 Don't Care 1 4+5. What would you most like to be famous for? Team Sports (baseball, soccor, etc.) 19 Solo Sports (surfing, skateboarding, etc.) 19 Music & Art 49 Science & Technology 5 Other 7 6. If you become famous, how will you use your fame? For myself... 26 For others... 29 7. If you could have dinner with any two living people, who would you invite? (25 names repeated; 57 unique.) TV and Movies 56 Book Authors 17 Sports 14 Music & Art 12 World Movers 11 8. If you could have dinner with any two people from any time in history? (21 names repeated; 31 unique.) World Movers 60 Music & Art 22 TV and Movies 10 Book Authors 10 Sports 3
Draw your own conclusions. I think it's interesting that World Movers and TV and Movies switch places in the ratings between life and history. I'm impressed how many submitted names are unique. Fame is fleeting... and expensive, so get it while you can? Other things matter more in the long run...
Here are some Web links for more research about fame and food:
- Harris Interactive has two nationwide polls with similar questions about Fame on the Web here and here.
- I first read this stumper in a post by Daniel P.B. Smith in the rec.puzzles newsgroup back in 1998, and I kept it in my "stumper ideas" archive until now. Google is now preserving the usenet, so you can still read the original thread. According to a post in alt.quotations, artist Andy Warhol really did say "In the future everyone will be world famous for fifteen minutes" in the catalogue of his photo exhibition in Stockholm in 1968.
- The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the Population Reference Bureau (PRB) have much info on world population and resources. The PRB QuickFacts is a good place to start. The U.S. Census Bureau and the PBS 6 Billion and Beyond sites are worth a visit. It's not encouraging, and rumors of war don't make it better. The real question is What next?
- I have more stumpers about world population and food at Forgotten Harvest (22 Nov 02), Too Many Ancestors (22 Oct 99), and World Party (15 Oct 99).
- There are wannabe celebrity websites like Get Your 15 Minutes of Fame; and global media networks like CNN/NBC/CBS/ABC/FOX/E!/ESPN/etc. who pander to it. I don't care. There's better world news if you look for it.
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