We Live In Public

Being sick for the early part of this week and stuck indoors meant that I OD’d on 4OD. Amongst a plethora of other things, I watched a documentary film called We Live in Public about the “the greatest Internet pioneer you’ve never heard of”, Josh Harris. Harris seems to be an Internet revolutionary, a visionary genius who was always two steps ahead of the rest of his industry. He combined technology and artistic experimentation with sometimes lucrative, sometimes devastating results.

Harris founded pseudo.com, the first Internet television network which Harris hoped would be the next CBS or Viacom. He recognised that online media gave advertisers tangible returns and thought that this was the key to huge global success. Certainly prophetic considering that he was doing this in 1993. When the dot com bubble burst Harris dealt with it by referring to pseudo.com as “the linchpin of a long form piece of conceptual art” and moved on.

His next work was an art project entitled “Quiet: We Live In Public” a Big Brother style experiment in New York in 1999. He housed more than 100 artists in an underground terrarium and placed them under 24 hour surveillance. Everything was free inside Quiet – free drugs, booze, food, accommodation – in exchange for this participants gave up all rights to their privacy. Josh carried out experiments using the inhabitants as his lab rats. He introduced interrogation techniques and collected reams of information on every single participant. Quiet soon degenerated into absolute chaos. As one participant states: “People don’t know how to deal with free. The free-ness is turning them into beasts.”  The NYPD found out about the goings on at Quiet and eventually the project was disbanded.

Josh decided to go one further and put himself at the centre of the camera’s gaze. He convinced his new girlfriend to allow cameras to be installed in their apartment and they were filmed and broadcast twenty four hours a day with viewers able to interact via live chat. This inevitably lead to the breakdown of the relationship and Josh’s own mental collapse.

The film asks the question do you have to be delusional to be a visionary? I’m not sure if Josh is delusional, slightly autistic, emotionally stunted, or simply a genius, but one thing I am sure of is his ability to be eerily prophetic in sensing the future of technology.

The film was directed by Ondi Timoner, the first director in the history of the Sundance film festival to win the Grand Jury award twice, once for this film and once for DiG!, a brilliant documentary about The Dandy Warhols and The Brian Jonestown Massacre.

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