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On the 40th anniversary of the Internet, WE LIVE IN PUBLIC tells the story of the effect the web is having on our society as seen through the eyes of "the greatest Internet pioneer you've never heard of", visionary Josh Harris. Award-winning director, Ondi Timoner ("DIG!"), documented his tumultuous life for more than a decade, to create a riveting, cautionary tale of what to expect as the virtual world inevitably takes control of our lives. Josh Harris, often called the "Warhol of the Web" through the infamous dot.com boom of the 1990's, founded Pseudo.com, the first Internet television network and created his vision of the future, an underground bunker in NYC where 100 people lived together on camera for 30 days over the millennium. He proved how in the not-so-distant future of life online, we will willingly trade our privacy for the connection and recognition we all deeply desire. Through his experiments, including a six-month stint living under 24-hour live surveillance online ...Written by
A Fascinating Film about a Peculiar Internet Pioneer
This film was shown at the SXSW Film Festival in Austin, TX after winning the grand jury prize at Sundance. It was well received in Austin as well. It is a fascinating look at the early days of the Internet through the biography of one its pioneers Josh Harris. The film is well-done in a technical sense and fascinating ride, but I'm not sure if it ever figures out if it's a history of an industry, a study of the social impact of Internet, or a biopic about the peculiar mad scientist, John Harris. It tries to be all of these things and thus perhaps undermines its own ability to completely succeed at any of them.
The film is informative in filling in some of the early history and Harris's key role with the mostly forgotten 1990s pioneering ventures of Jupiter Communications and Pseudo.com. But Harris seems to move away from his role as a computer nerd and begins to evolve into a dysfunctional performance artist who seems to want to demonstrate that the Internet will break down all remnants of human privacy. The film maker seems to want emphasize his visionary qualities in which he is predictive of today's MySpace and Facebook culture.
However, this reviewer doesn't find his bunker experiment or his living in public online to be particularly insightful or predictive. The whole concept was more-or-less foreshadowed in Jim Carrey's Truman Show in the 1990s. Nor is it particularly predictive. Harris was creating venues in which people were forced to live in public in front of cameras with predictably unhealthy and destructive results. Today, we choose voluntarily how much of our lives to allow the public and really only our chosen friends to view online. The difference between everyone's lives being on display and allowing our friends to see limited glimpses of our lives is vast. Harris seems like a tragic and self-destructive figure, who is constantly rewriting his own experiences in his own mind. He is estranged from his family and unable to establish and maintain intimate relationships.
In the end, he seems to have stranded himself on his own Gilligan's Island (with which he is obsessed). He is either a clown (another one of his characters) or simply a reclusive madman. The film provides an intriguing picture of an internet pioneer who went off the deep end, but I'm not sure if it achieves its goal of truly using Josh's experiences to critique the virtual world that he played a key early role in helping construct. The virtual world, for all its flaws, is not the world of total public voyeurism that Josh imagined it would become.
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