Friday, December 30, 2011

In Public

I tried to remember when I first heard of 'the internet'. Sometime in '98, I created my first email address with a Dutch internet host that long ceased to exist. As with most things, I'm always running way behind the facts. So I joined the Dutch version of facebook, Hyves, when its popularity had already faded, I still use hotmail, it took fifty Facebook invitations before I finally joined and posting blogs online is of course far from being cool. I share part of my life online, sometimes more than others, but have determined my own limits. Sometimes, I wish I was a pioneer, knowing what the next hype will be, so I can take advantage from it and maybe even earn some money with it.

Like Josh Harris, "the greatst internet pioneer you've never heard of", the "Warhol of the Web". Harris started the first online television network,, with which he tried to create a world that was totally unknown and new then, but nowadays has become reality. Then, he conceived the project Quiet, in which a hundred people were locked up together for thirty days, without having any privacy. Unlike Big Brother, (that started at the same time in the Netherlands) where people had some privacy in the toilet and shower, here everybody was filmed constantly and they could watch each other on screens all the time. According to Harris, this again was a prediction of what our lives would look like in the future. After Harris used others as guinea pigs for his fascinations, for the next project he and his girlfriend were under 24 hour camera surveillance, and their viewers could chat with them and react to their actions. Eventually, the comments of the viewers became more important than their life and relationship, and the anonymous followers drove them apart.

It can all be seen in the documentary We Live in Public, made by Ondi Timoner in 2009, long after Harris moved to another continent, away from the internet and old debts. When his girlfriend left him and their house full of cameras, the amount of online followers dropped from 100 to 15. "I feel useless," Harris said. It made me think about the Postsecret app on my phone. The website provides moving and recognizable moments for thousands of followers on a weekly base. But the phone app has become a world of its own, where people criticize, comment and anonymously threaten eacht other. Made up secrets, threats "heart this and I won't kill myself", photographs of other people with accusing text, it's all there.

Harris predicted a world that has become reality. He was a pioneer and made money by exploiting others and himself, and made ordinary life into a public good. And while I am just as addicted to checking my email and facebook and reading secrets of strangers, I would rather not want to be part of it all. I like the part where I can stay in touch with my friends all over the world, and where secret stories can move me. But I don't like the other side of that world. So instead of leading the world into new undefined areas, I'd rather walk at the end of the line.

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