THE BLOG
08/05/2013 05:05 pm ET Updated Oct 05, 2013

15 Minutes to Immortality

"In the future everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes." - Andy Warhol

A phrase, coined by Warhol, that has been attributed to concepts by Marshall McLuhan and has been "updated" at various times since, including:

"On the Web, everyone will be famous to fifteen people." Attributed to a few

And my favorite, and the most accurate to my mind:

"Today everyone can have 15 Mbs of fame." - Robert Greenberg

Warhol of course lived for that 15 minutes of fame and was devastated to find that after he had been shot, in a now legendary incident, the headlines he looked for upon awakening had been preempted by the assassination of Robert Kennedy.

The fifteen people quote, cynical as it may be, has a certain poignancy as evidenced by the shrinking size of personal networks, but is mitigated by the almost religious belief of many that they too can achieve "everlasting" digital viral fame for kissing raccoons on the goofy side and by random acts of violence on the chilling.

Yet 15 Mbs of fame is what we all have. It's universal -- own any digital device and it's yours without asking. Like it or not, asked for or not, sought after or not, we leave an imprint that is tagged to us -- sewn on like a tail -- and leaves a trail in its wake that at its worst is reminiscent of storm debris.

I hate to get really local, but this news is easily searchable and would be almost comedic except that it is a sad commentary on all the "15s."

I refer to the upcoming New York City elections where two disgraced former elected officials -- both caught out in sordid sexual encounters -- have returned full force to the ring, and are leveraging their past to gain further "fame."

Crazy, no? I am not being judgmental here -- frankly, I don't care what either of them did or does -- I am more interested in our behavior and the behavior of those around them as an extension of "15," because I do believe that we are at an inflection point in society today and our future as moral, ethical and collaborative beings is at stake.

Witness the Director of Communications for one of those candidates....

Never heard of her? Truth is, neither had I -- nor should we have -- but she used her "15" to defame another person in the vilest of language, not in a private meeting but publicly, in an interview on a digital political website... then attempted to clean up her mess through Twitter.

Now, here is the irony -- ask yourself what could have possessed this young woman to think that she could spew obscenities in public and then retract it all without consequence? What indeed!!! The lesson learned from her employer and empowered by the likes of us....

As I watch the debate around freedom of speech vs. abuse on Twitter and Facebook -- and I sympathize for the young woman dead in Italy (one of way too many around the world) and for the people living in fear because of threats -- I wonder just what we have done with our 15 Mbs of fame -- what we might do, and what the consequences of the further squandering of this incredible power and blessing might be.

McLuhan, who predicted the age we live in, also foresaw its greatest conflict... listen:

"We become what we behold. We shape our tools and then our tools shape us." - Marshall McLuhan

We are being shaped by our tools - entitled to do or say what we want as we want because they exist.

The fault lies with all of us. It's time to take back our own discourse, time to accept accountability for our tools. Imagine if I could shoot anyone I wanted to because I had a gun --- well, we do....

Perhaps it's time to send all of the abusers to the land of a lifetime of obscurity... what better punishment for the entitled seekers of fame at our expense.

What do you think?