Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Fame is younger, faster, and bigger than it used to be

In 2010, working with Google, [Erez Aiden and Jean-Baptiste Michel] perfected the Ngram Viewer, which takes its name from the computer-science term for a word or phrase. This “robot historian,” as they call it, can search the 30 million volumes already digitized by Google Books and instantly generate a usage-frequency timeline for any word, phrase, date or name, a sort of stock-market graph illustrating the ups and downs of cultural shares over time. ...

They also come up with a sort of fame speedometer. The ngram data show that people are becoming famous at a younger age, and faster, than they did two generations ago.

Fame is much bigger, too. At one point, the authors write, Bill Clinton’s ngram “was almost exactly as frequent as the word lettuce, twice as frequent as the word cucumber, and about half as frequent as the word tomato. He completely outclassed second-tier vegetables like turnip and cauliflower