We Live in Public (15)
Cast: Josh Harris, Tom Harris (and many others)
Director: Ondi Timoner
Running time: 90 minutes
This documentary will make you think. A lot. About how far we’ve come in the last decade and about where we’re headed. You’ll start to wonder what you did before the Internet took over our lives and you’ll pontificate about life before ‘reality shows’. Even sitting on the toilet requires the presence of your precious iPhone. We’re now so consumed by social media that it’s actually quite difficult to spend your waking day alone and connected to nothing.
Or is it?
We Live in Public is a filth-ridden monstrosity of a rollercoaster ride for Josh Harris, collected together from thousands of hours of footage recorded over the last decade. Well, what did you expect? It concerns the Internet. This creation alone has spurned a new wave of everything — absolutely anything you desire can be found there. Plus a whole heap of things you definitely would have been happier without knowing. Harris came up with a few ideas about where he thought the Internet should take us and Ondi Timoner’s documentary does well to serve as not only a biography for Harris’ professional and personal life, but an introduction into the growth of the World Wide Web itself.
Harris was ‘famous’ for a number of things in the online world, namely, starting a company called Jupiter Communications which monitored web traffic statistics that was ultimately sold for $80m. He then used that cash to fund an online dial-up video service, where people could see and talk to each other, called Pseudo.com, which is all a bit saucy and kinky. And, aside from being pretty accurate with existing trends and growth of fads on the internet (how the internet will monitor everything we do), he decided to pioneer an experiment in which he locked 100 willing participants (most of which were eccentric artists), into a basement in New York.
The basement was packed full of cameras, weapons, booze, drugs, bunkers to sleep in — plus some very crazy interrogation rooms, used to psych out the participants and generally cause them psychological grief. They were allowed to use whatever they wanted, for free, any time they liked, whilst there were cameras on them 24/7 recording their every whim, sexual desire and faecal deposit. It just turned into an incredibly sad view of humans, to be honest. I was left saddened at the sight of what these despicable humans thought was art or some clever commentary on how we live. This isn’t how we live — this is just abuse. This experiment (named: Quiet) was put to a stop by the police on New Year’s Eve at the turn of the century.
His later experiment, rigging up his house to monitor his relationship with his then girlfriend Tanya Corrin, was actually very interesting to watch. Despite being another silly hobby that Harris subjected his partner to, it gave rise to real time internet discussions, based on what viewers could see happening in his house between the two. They would then go back to their respective computers to see what people were saying about them. Of course, this ended his relationship and they went their separate ways.
You’ll be cringing all the way through this as you watch Harris not only make some incredibly stupid decisions with regards to money, but because of the quite apt soundtrack – which is so unbelievably loud and annoying that you’ll feel safer slicing off your own ears. Harris spends his (and others’) fortunes on lavish parties for geeks; entertaining them with models, booze and other general debauchery. His point? Well, I’m not certain. It really just appears as though Harris was just handed a lot of money to squander, which he sure as hell did.
Suffice to say, Harris has been AWOL for at least the past ten years. Timoner manages to catch up with Harris at some point later, in Ethiopia, where we see he is trying to help those out there build a better life for themselves. His odd and vaguely public bipolar personality seems to have disappeared — but, you can never really be sure. Whether this is his way to ‘make amends’ or simply his next project, we’ll never know. This self-gratifying individual appears to have no personal morals, nor does he care about anything else anyone else does. And, it pleases me to see that, by the end, he has caused his own demise. To go further in proving how low this person sank, he sent his mother a recorded video of him telling her how much he disliked her… on her deathbed.
Was he making a point about loneliness or the effect of cameras on humans? Or maybe he was making social commentaries on one’s own indulgences and fantasies? Or did he simply prove that by pandering to an individual’s every hedonistic whim you’ll help them self-destruct? I’m going with the latter — and, sorry to say, we knew this already.
We Live In Public gets a two and a half out of me.