The Age of the Microcelebrity

Clive Thompson in Wired has a pitch-perfect, short piece on "The Age of the Microcelebrity". It’s not groundbreaking in its analysis, but it captures with eloquence oft-talked about themes like transparency, your personal brand, anonymity, and web 2.0. And even in conceding that it’s a bit strange that we’re all a celebrity to somebody in the era of Facebook, Twitter, blogs, and the like, Thompson is appropriately upbeat:

You could regard this as a sad development — the whole Brand Called You meme brought to its grim apotheosis. But haven’t our lives always been a little bit public and stage-managed? Small-town living is a hotbed of bloglike gossip. Every time we get dressed — in power suits, nerdy casual wear, or goth-chick piercings — we’re broadcasting a message about ourselves. Microcelebrity simply makes the social engineering we’ve always done a little more overt — and maybe a little more honest.

10 Responses to The Age of the Microcelebrity

  1. Don’t know about micro-celebrity. Honestly, it seems more like a balancing act. Bringing the natural popularity of people back to normal. Doesn’t anyone feel like celebrities are too popular?

    I mean a lot of people care about Britney Spears, but even more people are bombarded with her news. I like the fact that i can self select my news and celebrities. Heck I can even become a celebrity among my local groups. Just like the time I did when I pulled down the pants of Brandon S. in phys ed in high school.

  2. Jude says:

    Interesting. I have my list of microcelebrities–you, Clifford at Asymptotia.com, Tom at Bigblueglobe, David Warlick at 2 cents worth, Miguel Guhlin, Matthew Stibbe at Badlanguage, Ewan Mcintosh at Edublogs, and sometimes Gretchen Ruben. I quote all of you, let you influence the heck out of me, and then realize that no one else has a clue who you are. Oh, he’s a blogger, I say. I got that from a blog.

  3. Chris Yeh says:

    I think that the key threshold for crossing into microcelebrity is when people you don’t know start talking about you.

    At first, it seems cool and ego-boosting. Then, when you realize how little you control how people perceive you, it gets annoying or even scary.

    But eventually, I think you come out the other side and figure out your strategy for dealing with it.

    The one I prefer is to simply be who you are…that way, you don’t have to waste a lot of energy figuring out how to appear to someone you’re not.

    That’s also the strategy I admire most in “real” celebrities. A guy like George Clooney just doesn’t give much of a damn–he does what he wants and lets people think what they will.

    Many years ago, I met Clooney on the set of ER (my sister worked on the production staff at the show), and he was exactly the same joking around with his buddies on the set as he was facing a bank of reporters.

  4. Anne-Marie says:

    The rise of micro-celebrities seems to be rising along with the whole niche markets concepts. Marketers suddenly realizing that there are entire sub-sets of the population to sell their wares to (with small amounts of tweaking and customization.

    How many specialty t.v. now? All of those hundreds of channels have hundreds of little micro-celebrities – good at their one niche, recognized by their hardcore fans – and unless they’re a natural superstar or have the Disney juggernaut behind them (Hannah Montana), they’ll stay on channel 459 and enjoy their small amounts of fame and celebrity within their niche market.

  5. @ Clive Thompson’s article, quote: “Adapting to microcelebrity means learning to manage our own identity and “message” almost like a self-contained public relations department.”

    The very suggestion that everyone should be so self-conscious at all times, so calculating about their appearance and ‘presentation’, is disgusting.

    Count me out of any such Paris Hilton antics.

    Besides, I’ll achieve all the micro-celebrity I’ll ever need when I start making porn flicks.;-)

  6. andy says:

    Vince, we can either embrace the inevitability that people are going to find out about our thoughts are and control what they will think, or we can deny it and let random events dictate how they perceive us.

    Refusal to accept or see the truth will not change it.

  7. @ andy:

    Nonsense.

    Your ‘truth’ applies only in an as yet limited sphere, and only for those automatons who choose to apply it.

    This obsession with personal “branding” (what an ugly, heartless concept) in ones everyday life, is the epitome of the slavish mentality fostered by Facebook.

    Carried to its logical end– the result will be the homogenization of personalities and a sad lack of spontaneity.

  8. andy says:

    Vince, whether or not it is “ugly” and “heartless” is not going to change the fact that it is happening.

    If you choose to present your persona as carefree and “above” it all, that is your prerogative. But carefree is still a persona. You are still signaling. We are all, always, signaling.

    As for your homogeneity logical end, I do not follow. If anything, personal branding would force people to be more unique in order to stand out from the crowd.

  9. @ andy:

    Who denied that it’s happening, or said anything about trying to change it, besides you?

    I don’t present myself online under my given name as anything except the words I write.

    That’s the only personal online presence I have or need.

    Notice how you arbitrarily assign all these attributes to me that I don’t necessarily possess (you’ve never asked me).

    I was talking about what a vapid approach to life it is to be always so concerned how we look to a camera, and all the more so because micro-celebrities are microscopic to most people, who don’t know or care who you are.

    I say that most people who play to the camera will end up as as useless to society as Paris or Perez Hilton, take your pick.;-)

  10. andy says:

    Oh, how I miss those days when I used to get in squabbles like this all the time in online forums and such. :)

    It sounds like we’re basically saying the same thing, Vince, except I’m saying that I don’t find anything vapid about it at all–I can see exactly why Perez and Paris Hilton choose to do what they do. I don’t think that our society is better or worse off from the age of the microcelebrity.

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