Experiential Learning: We Live in Public

4 08 2011

We Live in Public is a documentary about the rise and collapse of Josh Harris’ internet empire.  In it, we see his early days of creating TV-like broadcasts on the internet, his experimental living scenarios, and his simpler life after bankruptcy.  It is genuinely a rags to riches (and back to rags) story.  The most incredible point the video made was that, as maniacal as his experiments seemed, they did make accurate predictions about the future of the internet.  His “We Live In Public” apartment complex was artistic madness.  The people living there were constantly intoxicated, having sex, firing guns; they were basically doing everything and anything that gave them immediate satisfaction.  His interrogations were creepy/intimidating as they mentally broke down the ‘citizens’ and showed what people are willing to do under extreme authoritative pressure.  He surveillanced a restriction-free adult playground; the citizens’ reactions to this environment paralleled how many people respond to internet interaction.  There was little intimacy, constant fun, and it built up to extreme conflicts; they became animalistic.  “Everything is free but the video” was a theme throughout the documentary and I believe it sums up a lot about how the internet today monitors our character and ‘sells’ to us.

     Though his ‘party’ was broken up, he  turned to his then-girlfriend, Tanya, to create a web version of the experiment.  In it, he and Tanya had a constant streaming feed  of their daily aparment life visible to the general public; it garnered thousands of viewers.  Like the aforementioned project, this one began with fun and excitement but led to inner conflict.  After a specifically bad fight in which Josh aggressively grabs her, the two separate and his downward spiral begins.  His audience diminishes and he sees it as a reflection of his self-worth; once a famous internet mogul, now a broke madman.  He appears almost schizophrenic in the videos following the split.  This demonstrates how the internet’s continuous feedback can create a serious amount of psychological pressure during an already distressful scenario.

     His life after these events was much simpler.  He avoided the public eye altogether and became an apple farmer (and eventually an Ethiopian basketball coach.)  I think it was a natural reaction; with so much external pressure ruling his life, he needed an escape.  It seems similar to celebrities who are constantly relocating to avoid the media circus that follows.  An example nearly identical to Josh’s was when Dave Chapelle became overwhelmingly famous and suddenly left to Africa without informing those closest to him.  Josh had gained the superficial commodities he thought he wanted: women, fame, money, drugs, parties, etc. but upon losing that, realized that he could live a more fulfilling life by helping others on a personal level.  Yes, part of his seclusion in Ethiopia was to avoid debt collection, but I at least like to think that at a deeper level he wanted to reform.  The moral of the documentary to me was that privacy is essential to a healthy lifestyle.  The internet encourages us to narcissistically believe that others are monitoring us more than we think.  Simultaneously, we have an innate desire for admiration or fame, but we may not totally understand its consequences and actually achieving it can become maddening.




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