People are becoming celebrities at a much younger age, but they are also losing their fame more rapidly than ever before!
That’s a major finding from a Harvard-led team of scholars who quantified cultural trends by examining the frequency in which words appeared over time in a database of about 5.2 million books, about 4% of all the volumes ever published.
The study also found that humanity is forgetting its history more rapidly than ever and that the English language is experiencing a time of huge growth in the modern Information Age.
The researchers investigated 5.2 million books out of 15 million digitized by Google and published between 1500 A.D. and 2008 A.D. That’s more than 500 billion words. It also totals a sequence of letters 1,000 times as long as the human genome.
Celebrities born in 1800 started achieving fame, on average, at age 43, while celebrities born in 1950 are starting to achieve fame at age 29.
Humanity is also forgetting its history.
For instance, it took 32 years for references to 1880 to fall by half, but it only took 10 years for references to 1973 to fall by half.
Finally, the researchers found that the English lexicon grew by 70% from 1950 to 2000, with about 8,500 new words entering the vocabulary each year.
- Source: The Chronicle of Higher Education, 12/16/10.