As I keep blogging, WIRED magazine was life-changing for me. It played a big part in my choice to study engineering as an undergrad and the early techno-utopian ideals of the magazine continue to shape my world view. I recall an especially memorable article on Josh Harris that united many of the strands intriguing me at the time: art and technology, building community in a post-privacy world, and fucking with traditional social and cultural norms. The Pseudo.com / WE LIVE IN PUBLIC tales contributed to an already saturated-media-driven-idealized-idea of New York that was utterly compelling to me.
How apt then to have watched a super documentary about Josh at the IFC a few weeks after finally moving to NY. Ondi Timoner‘s We Live In Public tells the story of “the greatest Internet pioneer you’ve never heard of”. Josh got the internet early, founded Jupiter Communications and made a lot of money very quickly and then went on to spend it all in the most awesome possible ways. Like so many of the early web pioneers, Josh could see where it was all going but mistakenly assumed it would all happen far quicker than it did. Many of the ideas he spent his millions on would only emerge as viable web2.0 businesses a decade later. His failed experiments were windows into a collectively narcissist, exhibitionist, sensationalist future that is now unfolding in the mainstream.
Many of his post-Jupiter projects involved living life continuously streamed onto the internet which means Timoner must have had no shortage of archival footage to draw to tell Josh’ story. I have always been fascinated with notions of doing away with privacy (and more recently the bolted on idea of the quantified self / life). Josh very publicly did the former and it didn’t end happily. The digital natives have grown up living in public and are much more prepared for it than the web1.0 generation. Crucially though, they can always switch the lifestream off as and when they choose whereas Josh’ more extreme experiments amounted to an enforced public living mode with no opt-out. There’s immense learning we can draw from taking societal trends to their logical extreme. The world isn’t going quite as far as Josh’ visionary investigations but there remain broader lessons to be drawn about where things are moving from them.
The doc is a lot of fun and is making its way around the US and Europe. Watch it.
Movie, visionary, WIRED. Pseudo parties. New York allure. Quantified Self.
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