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A We Live In Public Review

Photo depicts two of the test subjects engaging in conversation while using the restroom

Photo courtesy of Warner Bros.

Photo depicts two of the test subjects engaging in conversation while using the restroom

Ahmar Rogue Hunley, Staff Writer

In this era of discovery, modern day technology has granted an ever-increasing perspective into the lives of others. Most of us cannot begin to imagine life without the option to broadcast all aspects of our lives through social media. Through this phenomenon, we ultimately become voyeurs and exhibitionist online. After watching the documentary We Live in Public, an over the top, strange recollection off the rise and fall of pre-internet millionaire turned self-declared artists Josh Harris, you might want to turn off your phone, shut down your computer, and live in isolation instead. Certainly, Mr. Harris who lived a life of both reckless abandon and prosperous opportunity, only to lose himself in lucid episodes of paranoia and maniacal control fixations could have used some alone time. His fall from grace led to his self-forced isolation into West Africa where he owns a small communications business

Before his fall into obscurity, John Harris was once known as the revolutionary of the downtown internet scene in Manhattan, New York during the 90’s. His ventures into the newly discovered internet earned him his well-deserved title as the Warhol of the Web. Known far and wide for his outrageous parties, innovations in chat, audio streaming, and creation of the first online television network, Harris was a huge contributor to the technological world. A Mark Zuckerberg before Mark Zuckerberg, Harris founded Pseudo Networks, the first website used to stream live audio and video. Over time, Pseudo Networks would grow into a multi-million dollar corporation that would stream over 50 separate channels and over 200 hours of original content. However, in order to garner such fame and fortune, Harris began to scam and manipulate his working-class employees by extorting thousands of dollars from them. Harris’ corrupt lifestyle soon began to negatively affect him in the sense that he began engaging in strange behavior and growing increasingly suspicious of those around him, creating a split in his psyche. His paranoia and obsession with privacy worsened to the point that he repeatedly stated that he was being watched by the government. This descent into psychosis is one of the main factors that led to the collapse of many of his companies. Jupiter Communications, the first internet market research company used by businesses to evaluate how well a product sells, was among the companies that fell after Harris’s psychological deterioration took hold.

After the collapse of Jupiter Communications, Harris doesn’t seem to comprehend how his behavior led to the demise of his emerging tech-empire. His need to understand how this led to him experimenting with different volunteer groups in bizarre social situations. One of his most famous projects is a closed experiment he dubbed Quiet: We Live in Public. With no less than Orwellian intentions, he gathered twenty random volunteers into an underground bunker, isolated from the outside world, where they lived for one month without any walls for privacy between the participants. Harris wanted to discover how the lack of modern day technology and the anonymity of a computer screen would affect the behavior of the test group, which were observed every minute of the night and day. They showered in the open, ate in the open and even bathed in the open often resulting in awkward or tense situations. The bunker was also outfitted with hundreds of cameras so that the viewers at home could watch as the subjects delved further and further into lunacy. Harris himself weirdly participated by periodically showing up in costume and acting in a deranged manner in order to disturb the test subjects. This experiment along with many others shown in the documentary demonstrates how far Harris’s obsession drove him while highlighting how despite proximity, how far technology can take us from our humanity and morality.

Serious documentaries are typically expected to keep their own opinions out of their work in order and not show favor to one side or the other. Ondi Timoner (the creator of the documentary) interviews many diverse sources over the course of the film including Josh Harris’s family, employees, fellow business entrepreneurs and Harris himself. She goes to great lengths to discover the truth. Some call Harris the pioneer of the 90’s internet scene while others say he is the scum of the Earth. Obviously from previous statements. However, most of her sources voice negative opinions of Mr. Harris they attribute to his unethical opportunism and ugly nature. Early in the film, it becomes obvious that Timoner agrees with the opinions of the majority. Yet, instead of making a strictly one-sided documentary with what appears to be a landslide of evidence, she gives Harris a chance to defend himself. Her professionalism and attempt at fairness in this situation are admirable as she sets aside her own opinions in order to offer viewers deeper insight.

This documentary highlights the highs and lows of modern day technology, particularly showcasing that when we rely on technology as our primary fail-safe, we can lose a part of ourselves, and maybe our humanity. As unbelievable as his story is, we can all identify with his dreams of greatness and are forced to reflect his subsequent failures as well. All in all, I would highly recommend We Live in Public as a film to watch if you’re interested in the rise and extremely abnormal fall of internet mogul turned privacy freak Josh Harris, or you are simply concerned about the detrimental ways tech-overload can affect us all.