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Movie Review: We Live In Public

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Josh Harris was an Internet wunderkind before there was such a thing. He was an idea man whose timing always seemed to be a few years off. Either he was a few years ahead of the tech curve with the businesses of his making (Jupiter Research – market research for tech) or a few years behind (Pseudo.com – an Internet streaming video network). He was the golden boy of New York’s “dot-com kids” whose life was connected by two bubbles: the first, within a safe barrier of childhood exile where his visions took shape and genius seemingly grew from excessive hours of television and a neglectful mother; the second as a cartoon-ish CEO with a make-up of fast fortunes and false hopes that the world saw crash and burn in Silicon Alley at the turn of the millennium.

He was an artist without classical training who burned through the bulk of his personal fortune and venture capital stash pursuing a fascinating array of grandiose parties and visual/social art projects celebrating shared public spectacle (Quiet, We Live In Public) with a focus on “the public” and an even larger focus on the spectacle. He was a cyber psychic whose confident musings on the future of sharing information on the Internet were conjured years before manifesting themselves as the addictive social networks we know as MySpace and Facebook.

The swift deflation of the silicon bubble forced both the press and the public to move on in disgust or dismissal and Harris turned refugee. His own remarkable path of innovation and indulgence left him nearly broke and mentally spent, mired in the residue left from the very microscope he chose to be filmed under.

In the fascinating DVD release of We Live In Public, which was the 2009 Grand Jury Prize for documentaries at Sundance, we are given a much closer look inside a capsule of time. This film was culled from 5000 hours of footage shot over a ten-year period. From this edited archive, we are exposed to the rise and fall of the digital dreams of Web 1.0 and an aftermath of self-imposed exile for one of its czars.

One can’t help feeling sorry for Harris, even though throughout this film his ego presents itself as unintentional dark humor. In one scene, parsed from a 1999 episode of 60 Minutes, Mr. Harris tells CBS correspondent Bob Simon that the goal of Internet streaming video network Pseudo.com was to “take you guys out. I’m in a race to take CBS out of business.” Through interviews with former employees, we learn that the actual streamed screen delivery of the site’s content was painfully slow and technology to rival network broadcasting was years away from implementation.

Director Ondi Timoner has dug deep with this ten-year film project to give us a well-researched and detailed glimpse into one man’s journey from being an Internet innovator to living in self-imposed exile, far from the dreams and art projects that consumed him. We Live In Public shines a light on this brief time a decade ago when a monumental wave of Internet innovation and excess crashed against technological and ideological barriers. The walls would soon be breached by a tsunami of tech, and with a speeding rush of broadband and social networking, would change the way we share information forever.

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