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Sidewalk review: We Live in Public

September 28, 2009

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What if social networks and the 24/7 access to the world we have gained through the Internet is actually disconnecting us from our humanity?

Ondi Timoner’s documentary “We Live in Public” helps extend the dialogue  on that question through the lens of early net pioneer Josh Harris. Although not known by the typical net user, Harris began noting trends of internet use early on before founding Pseudo.com. Along the way Harris became worth $80 million before the dot.com bust of the mid-90s where Harris lost it all.

Through experiments including a month-long underground communal experience and six-month 24-hour surveillance that led him to mental strain where he ran from his life.

Before any of us could even dream that we would be tweeting our every move or posting images of what we ate, Harris knew that we would all easily trade our own privacy for the fleeting ideal of fame. Warhol may have said we all wanted 15 minutes of fame, but Harris knew we wanted 15 minutes every day for the rest of our lives.

And Timoner was there from the beginning – documenting his life, taking part in his underground experiment. She examines not only his strange legacy but the strangely accurate predictions of how the internet will effect us. Where before we were social by coming together, now we rely on how many hits we get on our blog, how many people follow us on Twitter, how many friends we have on Facebook or MySpace (if people still use that?) to define our self worth.

I know. That concept ruffles our feathers. Its easy to say, no, I don’t care about online, but imagine going from thousands of followers to 2 or 3. Imagine letting the world see your every moment, from embarrassing arguments to going to the bathroom. Braving any self-censorship to share yourself with the world and then to be forgotten. A play thing that is left behind by its children. Harris experienced it all, 10 years before many of us even imagined our first status update.

What’s riveting about the documentary is not just Harris compelling story, but how it can easily hit home with anyone that spends much time staring at a computer monitor.

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