Polls Say We’re a Generation Seeking Fame. Here’s Where That Will Lead Us

Picture: Djamal Akhmad Fahmi (creative commons)

I recently asked my seven year-old nephew what he wanted to be when he grew up. With delightful honesty he said, “I want to be famous!” The reason turned out to be his favourite YouTube celebrity. With their thousands of subscribers and millions of views, he one day hoped to be as popular and entertaining as them.

My nephew isn’t alone. Lots of us at his age wanted to be famous. But for some years now polls have been pointing to a growing hunger for fame among us adults. A 2007 Pew survey found getting ‘rich and famous’ was a high priority for 18-25 year olds. A more recent YouGov survey found one-in-three Millennials want to be famous with some of them willing to sacrifice jobs and relationships to get it, while a US poll suggests one-in-two adults in general wouldn’t mind a little fame too. Once reserved for Hollywood’s A-list, social media has helped fuel this desire, bringing celebrity status within reach of us all.

Hungry For an Audience

Picture: Markus Spiske (creative commons)

Online fame has helped launch flourishing careers (hello Justin Bieber), and enabled home-based entrepreneurs to earn a living. But putting any benefits aside, I worry about our growing desire to be seen.

In 2005, as a brand new author, my publishers arranged for me to be interviewed at a book fair. Nervous and excited, I arrived at the venue early and found a good number of people milling about. An announcement came over the speakers: “Ladies and gentlemen, join us at the stage for an interview with author Sheridan Voysey.” My big moment had come! What might happen? I hoped for a welcoming crowd and, if I’m honest, a big queue at the book signing. I walked on stage with the interviewer, sat down, and looked out at the audience. How many were in the crowd do you think? 400? 40? There were just four people in those seats. And two of them were from my publishers!

When There’s No Applause

Picture: Nathan Dumlao (creative commons)

After the interview I stopped to sign the one book sold then made a hasty exit, where I found myself walking against a stream of people heading to hear the celebrity about to speak next door. I got in my car and sat for a while… feeling very insignificant. That’s why I’m worried about those polls.

Because that day I saw the problems of measuring your self-worth by popularity. Hard to get and easily lost, when we base our significance on it, despair is soon to follow.

Esteem Beyond Popularity

A quote from the apostle Paul has helped me in this. Follow God’s example, he says, as dearly loved children, and walk in the way of love. ‘Follow God’s example’ tells me to pursue goodness over fame, ‘as dearly loved children’ tells me my significance is found in God rather than a crowd, and ‘walk in the way of love’ calls me to serve whoever stands before me, whether that’s an audience of 400 or four.

Not that I always live by this. Some days I hanker for more likes and views. That’s when I have to remind myself of those words dearly loved and walk in the way, remembering that significance is found through them.

And not through applause.


A version of this article first aired on BBC Radio 2’s Zoe Ball Breakfast Show

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