We Live in Public (2009) (Documentary)
Billed as the true story of the “the greatest Internet pioneer you’ve never heard of”, We Live in Public is the confronting and brilliantly-told documentary of one of the lost icons of the first “dot com boom”, Josh Harris. In equal parts shocking and astonishingly prescient We Live in Public profiles a troubled visionary who foresaw the social media generation, a world in which he envisaged people gladly sharing everything about themselves with absolute strangers, exchanging their privacy for social connections, forms of distant intimacy, fleeting fame, exhibitionism or narcissism.
This prescience is mainly profiled through the lens of his grand, increasingly bizarre and debauched “big brother” experiment, a multi-camera 24-hour Internet TV show. Watching this all unfold now, in 2012, it is as though his early experimentation, descending as it does into absolute chaos, was an unwitting (and unheeded) warning for the later dot com generation’s over-eagerness to lose its privacy. By creating the most perverse version of what one might expect in a world without any privacy, without boundaries, Harris seems to be sending a warning to the future – connect, but at what cost…? But the film is just as much about the man’s vision, how he stretched the technology, and the dot com boom as it is about the man himself.
Scenes showing his estrangement from his family and the devastating footage of the emotionless, flippant, goodbye video he sends to his dying mother are genuinely troubling and confronting as is the vision of the failing, final weeks of his second attempt at living life without privacy on the web. We watch as his relationship with his girlfriend Tanya, ends in an exhibitionistic tantrum in front of the cameras and the dwindling number of those watching through them.
It seems a bit pompous to say that We Live In Public is an “important film” but it is. Not only for its historical documentation of an amazing time when technology, art and commerce collided but for its utterly compelling portrait of a complex, troubled individual and the substance of that what drives some to success, some to madness and some to both…