Famous People I Don't Know
Last Updated: 2019-08-08 18:04

There are lots of famous people in the world, and I don't know most of them. That's a little weird for me to think about. By "famous", there are two definitions that I'm referring to:

  1. People with a big following (i.e. via subscriber count, number of fans, number of people who know them, etc. etc.)
  2. People who are well-known for being the best at X.

For the meaning in 1), there's a story I want to tell about how increasing population / access to information means that there are now many more people with "large" followings. EX: Several years ago, there were only a few channels on YouTube with over 1 million subscribers, and it was possible to know them all. That's not the case anymore. But I don't think my intuitions around what constitutes famous has changed, despite the influx of people who would fit into my category.

I'm not sure if it's actually easier than in the past to achieve over 1 million subscribers on YouTube, and maybe the proportion of people past the famous threshold has actually gone down in recent years. But that's not exactly relevant here. The weird thing is just that there are lots of people in the world with big audiences that I just won't know about...yet I'm expecting to know them.

Insert speculation about Dunbar circles, hunter gatherer societies, and expecting to know people here.

For the meaning in 2), I think I just have the expectation that excellence should become propagated into common knowledge. And if I don't know about a world record holder in X, I just sort of assume that X isn't an area that people have put effort into mastering. Turns out, this is highly wrong. I just found out the other day that there's a world record holder for skipping rocks, and it's insane. Maybe we can chalk this under another instantiation of What You See Is All There Is (re: Kahneman)?

In response, it looks like there are two things I can do: If I want my threshold to only include the top N people at X, I'll need to move my threshold for excellence/fame upwards (EX: "you need 100 million followers to be considered 'famous'"). Otherwise, if I want to stay anchored to my current thresholds, I'll need to update my intuition behind how many people are famous (EX:"more people than I originally thought have over 1 million followers").

I think my expectations for excellence are more entrenched, as they seem to be more strongly supported by my experiences with those around me, so it might be easier to just change how frequent/likely/numerous things which pass my thresholds are.