If you’re a young public figure and you will die unnaturally, I have some good news! Your memory will likely last a lifetime. If you’re older and not a public figure, the chances of you being forgotten are high.
Human history has always been about remembering the lives of those who have died. Ancestors shared their stories and ballads with the next generation to honor those who had died. They would gather around a fire to share their memories, hoping they would be passed on to the next generation. Humans began to collect, store and distribute information on a large scale after the invention of the printing press. Because it was easier to store written information, the printing press made it easier for people to preserve and collect memories of their loved ones. The internet and other communication technologies have revolutionized the way we store, create, and maintain memories. Also, the internet allows us to analyze large-scale data in quantitative terms.
It has been a major concern in history to be remembered after death. Civilizations like the Romans considered damnatio memorial or removing the public’s memories one of the most severe punishments. Many of us have probably wondered what our legacy would look like after we’ve passed on from this world.
One of the most common methods to assess academic performance is the h-index. This refers to the number of research papers that have the same number of citations. It is an important number in academia. At the time of promotion as Professor at JHU School of Medicine, the mean and median H index for peer-reviewed papers is 25 and 23, respectively. Scientists in math and computer science don’t cite each other as frequently as they do in biomedicine. There are also very few computer scientists under the age of 100. It is easy to follow their Google Scholar profiles and learn more about their research. Jure Leskovec (index = 117), coauthor of the famous node2vec and authority on graph neural network (CNN), is one of the scholars I follow.
Imagine my surprise when I found the paper by Jure Leskovec and Robert West titled “Post-mortem memories of public figures in news, social media” in Scholar. Although I don’t know the authors personally, their work is highly credible and productive. The authors identified trends in the media and analyzed how people are remembered one year before Death. Technically, it answers the question of how long your name will last in people’s memories after you die. It is clear what you had to do in ancient Greece for it to last (hello Achilles! But what about today? This paper will help you to stay famous even after your Death.
Robert is an assistant professor at the School of Computer and Communication Sciences of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Lausanne, where he also heads the data science laboratory. Jure is an associate professor at Stanford University in computer science. He is also an investigator for Chan Zuckerberg Biohub, a non-profit research organization. Christopher is currently the chair and professor of the Linguistics Department at Stanford University.
Despite their diverse backgrounds, they share one thing in common: They are all experts in artificial intelligence and data analysis.
The three scientists examined the mentions of 2,362 public figures on English-language online news and social networking (Twitter) in one year before and after their deaths. Between 2009 and 2014, the people they tracked died. The researchers then examined the effects of Death on attention and modeled the two as communicative memories, which are “sustained through the oral transmission and cultural memory.”
They combined the Freebase knowledge database with online news and social media collected through Spinn3r. Spinn3r is an online media aggregation tool that tracks mentions from all 6,608 English-language domains indexed via Google News and media posts by Twitter. The scientists tracked the frequency of each of the 2,362 individuals mentioned in both the media over the past year and the following year. They were able to quantify spikes and declines in attention after the deaths of public figures.
Analyzing mention frequencies showed that most public figures experienced a dramatic increase in media attention immediately after their Death. The median mention frequency was 9,400%, while it increased by 28,000% via Twitter. After Death, the average mention frequency dropped by around one month and slowly declined to pre-mortem levels. These two stages correspond to the two components of collective memory. One is communicative memory which dominates at an early stage and rapidly decays, while the other is cultural memory which dominates around two weeks after Death but decays slowly.
The study revealed that artists are more likely to be remembered because they leave a lasting legacy. Leaders, athletes, and others who are notable for their actions during their lives lose interest in their work once they are no longer able to replicate them. Leaders are most affected by this. Artists are also notable for their cultural memory. However, no notability type is as prominent in terms of communicative memories. Ceteris Paribus, an unnatural demise, also raised the rank about the short-term mention. Significant was also the effect of age at Death. Twitter showed that the post-mortem boost was negatively and monotonically associated with age at Death. The news also showed a greater short-term boost in unnatural deaths than Twitter.
The study revealed that Twitter users pay less attention to the Death of a leader or public figure. These poor souls died more because of the news, both short- and long-term. The researchers also noted that future studies could add language, tone, and attitude toward public figures one year before and after their deaths to determine if the study will come up with a different conclusion.
The researchers concluded that an anglophone of any age who was well-known and loved by the media before their Death and then died young and unnaturally received the greatest post-mortem boost in English language media attention. If you want to be remembered, make sure you are famous before you go!
If you’re interested in ways to prolong your life and avoid premature Death, then consider attending the 8th Aging research and drug discovery conference hosted by Columbia University and the University of Copenhagen. Jeanne Calment (122.5) is currently the longest-living person in the world. This record will help you become famous in your later years.