I know at least ten people whose personal Websites attract as many unique visitors a year as the number of copies sold of Dan Brown’s books. Yet, Dan Brown is a global celebrity and they remain largely anonymous. Why is that? Fame is defined as the number of people who have heard about you. If the same number of people learns of your existence online as has heard of Dan Brown, why is it that he is in all the prime time TV talk shows and you are not? What is the difference between cyber-fame and the “real world” variety? Isn’t the Internet an integral part of our reality?
Many veteran institutions regard cyberspace as a threat to their continuing prosperity, or even existence. The publishing, music, and film industries; academe; libraries; bookstores; newspapers; and governments are all apprehensive about the Internet’s culture of laissez faire, seeming encroachment on their territories, and controlled anarchy. They deliberately (and at their own peril) ignore the main actors there. Thus, while “real-world” experts may have a presence on the Internet (in the form of a blog or a social networking page), specialists whose mainstay is in cyberspace are rarely if ever invited to share their wisdom and experience with academics and other gatekeepers. They are shunned because they “lack credentials” or because their virtual presence makes them “not serious”. Online fame and celebrity do not spill over into television and magazine fame or academic recognition because television and magazines and universities and publishers of works of reference are being decimated by the Internet and regard it as “the competition”.
The medium itself – the Internet – poses additional obstacles to attaining “real world” fame. Because barriers to entry are low (anyone can and does have a Website), reputation relies solely on word-of-mouth. As opposed to other mechanisms of establishing reputation and credentials (such as peer review or investigative journalism), the word-of-mouth sort is very easy to manipulate and control. The Internet’s is a mob mentality and crowds source its “information”. In other words: to an extreme degree, you can’t trust what you read and see online. Text, images, videos can all be doctored and tampered with. Nothing is authentic and, therefore, nothing is “real”. Rumours, gossip, and disjointed facts pass for “knowledge” or “reporting”. Since the bulk of cyberspace is populated by anonymous users and because identities, personal biographies, credentials, and claims cannot be staked or supported properly, the Internet is a universe of apparitions, ephemeral avatars, and “handles”. These tend to vanish overnight with startling regularity.
The celebrities of the “real world” – from Madonna to Dan Brown – have been with us for many years. Their output has been vetted by peers, editors, publishers, media executives, producers, anchors, eyewitnesses, and flesh-and-blood consumers. We feel a modicum of intimacy with Brad Pitt that we can never develop with, say, Larry Singer (a co-founder of the Wikipedia). Brad Pitt is three-dimensional: he has a body, a face, a wife, kids, habits we follow, comments he utters, interviews he grants, property he buys and sells, movies he makes, causes he supports. The number of people who use the Wikipedia annually far exceeds the number of people who had watched all of Pitt’s films put together. Yet, few have heard about Sanger. That’s because Sanger is a mere handle: he is two-dimensional, more a representation of a concept than a “person”. We may know he is out there and we may be cognizant of his contributions to the Wikipedia and Citizendium, but that is the extent of it. Jimmy Wales – Wikipedia’s other co-founder and driving force – is as close to a cyber-celebrity as they get, yet even he doesn’t reap an infinitesimal fraction of the coverage that Pitt effortlessly garners.
Until the Internet is better regulated, the way to fame is outside its bounds. Cyberspace is merely another – marginal and auxiliary - marketing and branding venue. No matter how many people have visited your Website as long as they haven’t “met” you through a more reliable venue (newspaper, print book, television, even radio), you are likely to remain anonymous (literally: nameless).
The Cult of the Narcissist
The Narcissist's Confabulated Life
Acquired Situational Narcissism
The Professions of the Narcissist
Narcissists in Positions of Authority
Celebrities Want to be Alone? (USA Today)