The Internet Fame Cycle: Change Management Needed
By Tony Kontzer
If you haven't heard of Ted Williams, the golden-voiced YouTube sensation, then you've probably had your nose to the grindstone this week. While Williams' tale isn't exactly an IT story, his sudden rise to fame--and, more recently, his embarrassing brush with its trappings--is a tale of the amazing ways in which information technology has infiltrated our culture.
It was just last week that Williams became an overnight celebrity when the Columbus Dispatch posted a video of him doing some quick voiceovers for a buck during a red light stop at the intersection in Columbus, Ohio, where he'd been panhandling.
The video went viral, getting millions of views on YouTube, and spawned a whirling dervish of a week for Williams. In one week, he appeared on news and talk shows, recorded a TV commercial for Kraft Macaroni & Cheese, and was even offered an announcing job by the NBA's Cleveland Cavaliers.
Things really took a turn toward the bizarre when Williams, in Los Angeles for a TV appearance, was detained Jan. 10 by the LAPD after having a loud public argument with his daughter, apparently because of her claims that he'd been drinking again. The following day, Williams' publicist canceled all of his public appearances to give him time to "decompress, rest, and get the professional help he needs."
What makes this story interesting from a technology perspective is the speed with which it has all unfolded. YouTube has become such a frequent platform for creating instant celebrity, it's easy for us to overlook the amazing power the site now holds over American pop culture. But it's much harder to overlook the fallout indicated by his publicist's comments. I'm not just talking about the speed with which he's apparently joined Lindsay Lohan and Charlie Sheen on the rehab track.
Everyone was so quick to capitalize on Williams' newfound celebrity that they didn't bother to consider the impact such a boomerang-like turn in his life might have on him. They threw him right into the fire, subjecting him to the frenzy that is fame in the Internet Age. It may only take days to experience the full gamut of the fame cycle, but it takes much longer to prepare for it.
All of this makes me think that while Williams is decompressing, resting and getting the professional help he needs, the rest of us should pause to consider the impact that the instant-celebrity culture spawned by YouTube and Twitter and Facebook is having on those it anoints. Just as many lottery winners are unequipped to deal with their sudden wealth, having fame foisted upon you when you're just a regular Joe can prove to be a curse.
In the long term, let's hope not only that Williams is able to handle--and capitalize on--his unexpected fame, but that our culture learns to respect the power of technology. There's a reason the concept of "change management" has risen in corporate culture--to ease the shock of introducing new technologies and business processes. Perhaps we need a similar practice to take hold in the technology-infused celebrity-building culture as well.