Fifteen minutes of fame

“In the future, everybody will be world famous for 15 minutes. In the future everyone will have their fifteen minutes of fame.”

Andy Warhol predicted this. But the question is, what was the point? Did he mean it as an optimist (everybody gets to be famous) or as a pessimist (just 15 minutes of fame in a life time)?

Let’s assume that he meant it as a pessimist, because fifteen minutes in a life time is not much. But how short is it? We will first have to find out how long a life time is, and then see how many minutes we have available to be famous.

Andy Warhol banana

One lifetime

What’s an average lifetime? According to Wikipedia, the current world average for life expectancy at birth is 67.2 years. It varies from country to country, but it’s a number to work with, so let’s use 67.2 years as our “life time” number.

So now we can calculate how many minutes there are in a lifetime. A year has on average 365.25 days. A day has 24 hours of 60 minutes, so there are 1440 minutes in a day. In a year we will have 525,960 minutes, and in our average lifetime we can enjoy 33,344,512 minutes.

So how famous are we in a lifetime?

Fifteen minutes of fame in 33,344,512 minutes. That’s 33,344,497 minutes of being a nobody. Our 15 minutes of fame are just 0.0000424 percent of our lifetime. Let’s try to visualize this?

Imagine a line with a length of 1 kilometer (1000 meters). This line represents your lifetime. On that 1km long lifeline, your 15 minutes of fame have a length of 0.4 millimeter. So even if you miss your 15 minutes, you don’t miss much.

A similar calculation

We have just compared the 15 minutes of fame to a lifetime. Now let’s compare our lifetime with the age of the universe.

According to Wikipedia, the current estimate of the universe’s age is 13.75 billion years. That’s 13,750,000,000 years. Our lifetime of 67.2 years now just seems a very short moment. Let’s again try to visualize this. A line of 1 kilometer is not enough to get the picture. Let’s use the circumference of the earth.

According to Wikipedia, the circumference of the earth at the equator is 40,075 kilometers, so that’s about 40 million meters. If the length of the equator represents the age of the universe, then our lifetime (of 67.2 years) has a length of just under 20 centimeters. It’s all we have. Use it well.

By the way

Andy Warhol got more than 15 minutes of fame, for example by his banana on the cover of a Velvet Underground album.

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