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  • Writer's pictureLeah Jones

We Live In Public

“About two years ago, I looked around and realized that what I had documented back then was a physical metaphor of how people would react to the Internet, which Josh predicted would eventually take over our lives.” Ondi Timoner, Director, We Live In Public

Let me repeat that…

“a physical metaphor of how people would react to the Internet…”

Today I went with 7 others (5 Twitter friends, one client introduced via a Twitter connection and a friend of the client) to see the documentary We Live In Public at the Music Box Theater. We Live In Public covers the two final art/internet experiments of Josh Harris. An analyst that made $80 million in the dot com boom, spent it like crazy and eventually hit rock-bottom and disappeared to upstate New York where he bought an apple farm.

This isn’t a review, but a collection of thoughts that have been swirling around in my head before and after seeing the movie. I left the movie feeling like I’d been punched in the face. For all the insanity (drugs + interrogation + weapons), Josh did predict how we would behave once the Internet became pervasive.

One – Jason Calacanis

Jason Calacanis is featured in the movie. He’s someone that’s been on my radar for a few years (founder of Mahalo and Weblogs Inc), but not someone I follow regularly. After Sundance, he posted to his blog a very long missive he’d originally sent out to his mailing list. Published in January 2009, I only came across the post this week. We Live in Public (and the end of empathy) is long, but worth the read. Also worth your time are the comments.

It is not so much his reflections of Josh Harris or the time the film covers, but his wrestling with the end of empathy. He describes the dehumanization of people on the web as Internet Asperger’s Syndrome. (Look for thoughtful comments from people with Asperger’s and you’ll understand that he shouldn’t have said Asperger’s, but don’t invalidate the whole post over this).

“In this syndrome, the afflicted stops seeing the humanity in other people. They view individuals as objects, not individuals. The focus on repetitive behaviors–checking email, blogging, twittering and retiring andys–combines with an inability to feel empathy and connect with people.”
The afflicted stops seeing the humanity in other people. “We’re harvesting our lives and putting them online. We’re addicted to gaining followers and friends (or email subscribers, as the case may be), and reading comments we get in return. As we look for validation and our daily 15 minutes of fame, we do so at the cost of our humanity.”

Not only does that describe online behavior of so many people, but it describes how humans are able to go to war. The dehumanization of other.

Two – Julia Allison

I don’t remember when I first noticed Reblogging NonSociety. A month, two months ago tops. I’m obsessed with it and also embarrassed that I read it daily. Reblogging Non-Society is “dedicated to watching the train wreck that is NonSociety .”

I hate that I read something dedicated to tearing another woman down. On the flip side, I don’t get Julia Allison’s fame. She’s been on the cover of Wired and featured in a story on how to turn yourself into a web celebrity. In Reblogging NonSociety, there are also some gems. Advice hidden for Julia and anyone else reading.

“Maybe Julia Allison, victim, might learn from this, and cease from Twitter-spewing her life to thousands of strangers. “Stop Tweeting that shit [like “when you know, you know” and “you’re the exception to my rule” as you told your friends you’d “found a boyfriend.”] in the initial stages of your acquaintance. It scares the shit out of them.

Like I said, I’m not proud of myself for being a reader or spending any attention on it. But what I try to remember every time I open the site – is that for all the celebrity that Julia has built for herself – she is a person. Those posts and comments hurt her. I wish that someone who knows her would pull her aside and say, “There is some truth and good advice hidden in the snark. It is time to live privately.”

Three – Merlin Mann

Merlin Mann is behind Inbox Zero. Inbox Zero is a myth in my world, but one that I admire. My main interaction and awareness of Merlin are his hilarious and often favorited tweets. Earlier this week, though, he posted a video that I finally watched tonight after much egging on by Dave. The total time to watch the two videos is just under an hour, but worth it.

First watch the video at the bottom of the page – 5 Household Hacks. And then watch his longer video where he explains what pushed him to make the funny, cutting video. Merlin talks about the the self-help industry, carpet baggers in social media, and butchers. And so much more.

Four – Waking up at 4AM

On Shabbat, I stayed up late talking with friends about our lives. Eventually my friend Erin started talking about kayaking. For her, kayaking is bringing her incredible joy and she thinks it is worth getting up at 4AM to go out for a sunrise paddle.

I couldn’t tell her what in my life is worth waking up at 4AM. Although sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night, roll over and read recent tweets and emails with one eye open.

Five – Shabbat

On my DC trip, which my friends must be sick of hearing me talk about, not only did I observe shabbat more than I ever do in Chicago, I stayed offline when I got to the Conversation in Baltimore. While some chose to keep their smart phones handy, I left it in my room and also didn’t take any paper with me. I was completely unplugged and totally present.

It was exhausting.

I realized that I use my Blackberry as a shield. A wall. A way to protect myself. My blackberry has not kept my heart from getting broken, but it keeps me out of the muck that can be so hard to handle at times.

As a result, I’m now staying offline for shabbat. I’m still on my phone some, but I’m keeping my computer off. I’m trying to be fully present at least one day a week. So far… so good.

Six – Peggy Orenstein

Peggy wrote a piece in the New York Times this week about how having information at our fingertips is sucking time away from us and that access to information is not the same as becoming wise.

“this mass-erosion of our self-control was inevitable, as the instrument of our productivity merged with that of our distraction: since computers have expanded from mere business tools to full-service entertainment centers. But I think there’s something deeper going on as well. Those mythical bird-women (look it up) didn’t seduce with beauty or carnality — not with petty diversions — but with the promise of unending knowledge. “Over all the generous earth we know everything that happens,” they crooned to passing ships, vowing that any sailor who heeded their voices would emerge a “wiser man.” That is precisely the draw of the Internet.”

Seven – Leah Jones

A client said to me this week, “I follow you on Twitter. Nothing is too small for you to comment on. Tell me about that.”

I responded that while I live publicly, I live privately. Yes. I share mundane details of my life, but I am rarely deeply personal. The idea of Naked Blogging is long-gone for me. I have an understanding that just because we can put it all out there, we shouldn’t.

There is power in mystery. There is preservation in privacy. I am much more private online than I have ever been in six years of blogging.

Eight – Kris Krug

Nine – We Live In Public

We left the theater, the eight of us, and looked at our phones. Could we tweet about what we’d just seen? What we were feeling? I wondered if everyone was reeling the way I was. I asked, “So… are we all going to delete our Twitter accounts now?”

I won’t. If it wasn’t for Twitter and Facebook, I’d have been at the movie alone. I suppose if it wasn’t for Twitter and Facebook, the film wouldn’t have resonated so much.

Just because we live in public, doesn’t mean we give up privacy. It means we have to manage privacy in our lives. It means that we accept a sometimes cruel mirror that might be put in front of us. It means learning to cope with assholes. Deciding if you feed trolls. Debating if there is truth in the snark that might someday be turned against yourself.

Living in public, also means a responsibility to our friends living publicly with us. Pulling them aside and reminding them that they are human beings first and Internet personas… second? third? twenty first?

This is what the documentary made me think about. The articles it brought to mine. The modern versions of Josh Harris. The experiments. The rat maze. All in all, we hold the plug and we can turn it off and live in private again.

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