Finding Fame and Fortu—Okay, Just Fame

Published 19 years, 8 months past

You probably know that I’m a long-time Macintosh user, going back to the days of the single-floppy Mac SE.  At one point, I worked in a computer lab that had a “Changing the world, one person at a time” poster on the wall.  Every single one of my books, articles, and other resources has been written or developed on a Mac.  So you can imagine how thrilled I am to be featured in an Apple Pro article.  Not only can you find out a little bit about how I got into this whole CSS thing, but see a picture of me dropping some fat horns on my listeners.

I’ll put this Pro file on the shelf with being made a comic strip character as “ways to know I’ve really made it”.  But you know what really told me I’d arrived?  Discovering that someone had created a Wikipedia entry about me.  It was a pretty stubby page at the time, but its mere existence was enough to drop my jaw into my lap.  Now I find myself wondering if I should edit my own entry to include a full biography and related links, or if that would in some way be incredibly gauche.  (And asking someone else to do it for me would just be gauche by proxy, which is worse.)

It’s an odd thing to be famous, even when the fame is limited to a specific field of activity.  As a matter of fact, I was recently asked to write an article about the “fame game” and I’m still mulling over how to tackle it.  See, when you get right down to it, being well-known is both a reward and a restraint.  When people look to you, there’s a certain set of expectations that gets imposed upon you, whether you want them or not.  You’re supposed to always be right, always be fair, and always be in agreement with whoever’s looking to you.  None of these things are possible.

Nevertheless, I am where I am because I worked to get here (and was lucky), and I’ve no real complaints about the position I occupy.  All told, it’s not a bad thing.  It isn’t even a good thing.  It just kind of is.

So there’s still the question of what I might write about the “fame game”.  As it was posed to me, the editor was interested in my thoughts on “how influential designers and developers must balance ‘responsibility’ to the community with their own need to say what’s on their mind and use their clout to get good things done”.  In many ways, it’s the classic “how do you feel about being a role model?” question.  I’m not entirely sure I’m qualified to answer the question, although I do have some ideas.  I often wonder what the community thinks, though.

So I’ll throw it out to you lot: in your personal opinion, how should influencers balance community responsibility with personal expression—or does there need to be a balance at all?

Comments (22)

  1. Pingback :: » Apple - Pro Eric Meyer

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  4. Congrats on the write up! Looks good!

  5. Very nice article. You deserve it!

  6. I’m currently enjoying your “More/Eric Meyer on CSS” Books, and was pleased to read about your recognition on the Apple site. In my opinion, that you should keep doing what you have been doing all along – it seems to me like you already do a good job of balancing the community responsibility and personal expression.

  7. I, too, have recently picked up both the ‘Eric Meyer on CSS’ books, and they’re already dog-eared! I keep seeing your name crop up in the most unlikely venues, so you are way more than known as a one-trick pony. That said, I do feel that taking pride in your hard-won abilities is never gauche.

    Keep it up!

  8. Well, the only professional way to deal with fame is attempt to date someone along the lines of Lyndsay Lohan, but of course, Kat probably would have something to say about that. But seriously, you mention two aspects of being a luminary: People look to you, but you then have expectations. But there’s a third aspect, and that’s you can wield some influence over the shape of the matter you’re a luminary on, not just how people learn it. In other words, if Eric Meyer says “I think it’s very important for more browsers to implement ‘display: inline-block'” or something along those lines, it holds far more sway than if I were to. But more importantly, it can have the effect, when applied judiciously, of mobilizing people who feel the same way into pressing for it.

    Now, granted, there’s a quick path to bullydom there (and if I can tell one thing from your writing, you’re anything but a jerk) so obviously choose your battles very wisely. But, like I said, in your position, you have some ability to influence the shape of the subject as well as teach it.

  9. The way I see it, the source of your fame is also the boundary around the territory in which you might wield it.

    If you became famous because you were a “beautiful person” actor, you can be a role model for other actors and aspiring beautiful people. The risk is that you incite a wave of eating disorders or plastic surgery among those who don’t possess the same assets.

    If you became famous because you’re a spectacular athlete, you can be a role model for others to work out, build skills and climb the leagues to the top. The risk is that, if you act like a boor, others will look at that as an excuse for boorish behavior even if they haven’t earned the same star power.

    And if you became famous because you’re smart, talented and skilled in a mental discipline (such as an art, a craft or a science … and interactive work is a bit of all three), you can be a role model for others to experiment, elevate their own abilities and collaborate. The risk is that you could choose not to share what you know, or to do so in a condescending fashion.

    That doesn’t seem very likely with you, though, so I’d say just be yourself, try to enjoy the perks of categorical fame and try to shed the pitfalls — I hear the CSS paparazzi are brutal!

  10. NBC’s Dateline had an interview with Rick Warren last night. If you don’t know Warren, he’s the pastor of Saddleback Church in Orange County, CA, one of the largest and fast-growing churches in the world. Rick’s book, “The Purpose Driven Life” has sold 20 million copies and is still going strong. In light of the “notoriety” he’s subsequently acquired, the interviewer asked him the same question you’re asking yourself: “what do I do with this influence?”

    Warren’s answer was simple: the voice you have is to be used for the benefit of those who have no voice.

    I think this is where Mak was heading with his comment, above.

    Warren was also quick to point out that the danger of having fame and influence is that you may begin to believe your own press clippings. However, in his case, he doesn’t have the blogosphere to ride herd on any such proclivity!

  11. One other observation: the fact that you’re even asking the question indicates that you’re on solid ground.

  12. Congratulations Eric!

    I was first introduced to you via the css discuss list many years ago, since then I don’t think I have once seen you miss-use, abuse or otherwise disregard the people who have come to you for help or otherwise. This is a rare trait indeed.
    In short, It’s well deserved credit !

    It is an interesting thing that people seem to forget that famous people are still human and arn’t the be all, end all of their given field.

    Anyway, keep up the good work :)

  13. Let’s forget about the article – The picture of you spinning vinyl is what does it for me. For me being both a web developer and a vinyl enthusiast, I’m elated to discover we have more or less similar paths.

    But seriously, it was about time you were showcased in a site like Apple’s. As long as you keep your feet in the ground, everything should be alright. And keep it up!

  14. You asked:
    “So I’ll throw it out to you lot: in your personal opinion, how should influencers balance community responsibility with personal expression—or does there need to be a balance at all?”
    Balance is an internal mechanism. When you feel balanced, you are. If you listen to “shoulds” you will be unbalanced – guaranteed – because you will not be expressing yourself, you will be expressing what others think you should be expressing and there will never be any agreement on that – or any satisfaction. Community responsibility is born out of your own feeling of abundance and desire to share. If you allow it to be born out of demands placed on you, you will always feel put upon and this stifles creativity. Do your thing, create your abundance – of time, of energy, of rewards and share when you are overflowing…whenever that might be.

  15. Congratulations on the Pro article and good luck on writing the Fame Game article. Now to the pressig matter at hand, how to balance the influences that you have over not only the web design community, but over the software development that allows for there to even be a web design community…

    You have been put into a position where you can essentially destroy the community that has built up around you and other designers, or you can help to mold it into a community where there are no longer the long debates about what is and what isn’t standards based design. Just the fact that you have shared your knowledge by your publications and your blog shows that you have a strong idea of what is wanted by the community and what you want for the community.

    Another aspect of the fame that you have acheived is that not only do you have a localized influence but your clout carries over into other realms as well. People are more likely to listen to what you have to say about things like politics or as far off the wall as what brand baby food is better.

    Just remember what Ben Parker told Peter in Spider-Man: “With great power comes great responsibility.”

  16. Influencers and innovators do not really have any obligation towards balance, except that within themselves and their lives. Sheer “over the topness” in their field is what makes them influencers and innovators in the first place – they inspire others, and provide others with something to which they can aspire.

  17. Congratulations from a fellow designer!

  18. Often leaders (not rock stars) are already doing things in a manner that makes them acceptable to a large enough crowd that they’re thrust into the forefront due to existing character. In your case you’ve earned the respect of other developers because of your consistent, clear and often humorous direction in CSS.

  19. Indeed quite an achievement getting recognition from the likes of Apple. But I must agree that’s not as much of an impact as someone accualy deaming you enough of a force to be added to Wikipedia. And I think you deserved them, both.
    Personally I just blundered into css coming out of a more programatic corner of the web and being stumped at the fact that many webdevelopers around me just didn’t seem to pick up on css. Using your examples and articles gave me the right ammo to get them to listen up.
    If those articles reflected on what you wanted and that’s what got you famous, wouldn’t you agree that people seem to want to hear your opinion? So I would think it’s not so much a balance, it is more of a cause and effect. You have an opinion and are able to voice it and that opinion has proven to be of benefit to the comunity, so just keep up voicing your opinions the comunity will likely let you know when you’re out of line.

  20. About the wikipedia article, I’d just purge it of inaccuracies, if it were about me.

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