Search This Blog

Monday, March 05, 2007

15 minutes of fame

The pop artist Andy Warhol predicted that with the technological advance of the media, soon everyone will be famous, but only for 15 minutes. A columnist in the Wall Street Journal recently turned this prediction on its head, and noted that as the media fractures as it advances, everyone will be famous all the time, in the eyes of 15 people that is. Thus, given advances in mass communication led by the internet, you will always find at least 15 people who raptly attend to your every musing, even if your claim to fame is a mere knowledge of the natural history of the dung beatle.

And this of course is a good thing, for if we can readily find 15 people who will give us an 'atta-boy' for our every murmur and burp on any topic that interests us, we will be more motivated to develop and perpetuate that interest. That's a wonderful change from pre-internet times, when the only 15 people who cared about us were more concerned with how we made our bed, fixed dinner, or paid the bills. We were famous of course, but not for the things that we felt truly mattered. Indeed, accomplishment and genius is only nurtured in environments where there are small groups of people to provide the 'atta-boy' for the simple act of trying. Indeed, where would Mozart, Galileo, and Einstein be without family and friends who gave them encouragement?

Of course, popular psychology, epitomized recently by Rhonda Byrne's best seller 'The Secret', gives short shrift to this simple truism. Motivation is just a matter of optimism, not a product of day to day encouragement, and your weightiest goals will move to you as a function of a sort of psychic gravity, or law of attraction if you will. So to get what you expect, you just have to learn how to expect, and keep expecting good things.

But this is nonsense, because as modern neuro-science demonstrates, motivation is not just a logical but an affective thing, and without the daily pleasantries of an unexpected compliment or word of encouragement, motivation is extinguished like a candle. To love what you're doing, you have to have other people love you because you're doing it. There is no other option. Motivation is not found in the logical constructions of optimism, but in our affective reaction to the opinions of other people.

To illustrate this truism, consider this global mind experiment, which can be performed by everyone who has ever posted to the internet. Consider a world without the internet. This would snuff out more than daily stock quotes and news blurbs on celebrities, but the individual inspirations of millions. Indeed, who would blog unto silence, or keep their aspirations bright when no one can hear them speak? Expectations would never be matched, because there would be no motivation to reach them. Indeed, that is the true 'Secret' of motivation, not the reflection of a cosmic law, but of a very human one. Motivation, like happiness, is not found in the facile and nonsensical laws of pop-psychologists, it is found in the 15 people who care about what we do.

No comments: