We Live in Public at Ventura Film Society Festival 2010

I had the opportunity to see We Live in Public tagged “the story of the greatest Internet pioneer you never heard of.” I already forgot his name.  Josh something or other. While he may have been intelligent and intuitive enough to see the future of electronic communication–social networking, user created content etc.–back when only a few insider geeks were exchanging e-mailmuch of his so-called genius was really an expression of deep rooted emotional/psychological issues. Sure, show me an artist who’s emotionally stable and I’ll show you a poser, but there are degrees of neuroses.

None of that is to reflect poorly on the film. The documentary film which the festival will open with, is a fascinating portrayal of an unlikeable, creative, opportunistic, sad figure during the dawn of the technology revolution when people didn’t know any better.

For me the most poignant and maybe even salient aspect of Josh’s journey to virtual fame and relative fortune then failure and irrelevance, is his emotional relationship with electronic media. It proves that human contact is not essential in order to feel and relate, but electronic interaction may not be the healthiest path to connectivity.

Josh was raised on TV. It was his mother, father,  brother, sister. Later, in the form of web broadcasting it would become his lover. In the film Josh says something to the effect that Gilligan was his biggest influence. Well into his adult life, he pursued his fantasies of living out the story of Gilligan’s Island.

His great contribution to the whole virtual experiment was his “quiet” project, where people were locked into a communal living situation where every moment was committed to video and broadcast live. Participants were essentially owned by Josh, and a decade later he would attempt to sell them back their lives digitally. Those involved (citizens of quiet) became comfortable being watched in bed, at the table, on the toilet, in the shower, having sex, shooting guns, being interrogated and finally falling apart.

Admittedly, it was an brilliant if somewhat mean-spirited exercise. While most of the participants moved on, Josh’s craving to be watched took a new, even more intimate turn as he and his girlfriend broadcast on webcam every moment spent at home while strangers chatted with them and about them.

Ultimately Josh failed to harness the internet for practical and lucrative purposes. (This could actually qualify him as an artist). Unable to distance himself emotionally from the medium, he lost out. Toward the end of the film, we see him attempt to sell his ideas to the founder of MySpace. It’s perhaps the most powerful scene in the film, because after everything, he is unrecognized and his love of the Web goes, once again, unrequited.

All hope is not lost, though. He finds peace and perhaps finally purpose in the unlikeliest, yet most necessary of environments.

You will have to see the film to find out. It screens on Thursday, March 25, 5:30 p.m. at the Lodge. For a complete schedule of films screening at the festival, visit the official Ventura Film Society Web site.

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