“Social Networking” is one of the ubiquitous buzzwords of our age. I’m rather sick of hearing it as I am bombarded daily with invitations to various events and webinars advising me how best to use it. My professional title is “Sales & Marketing Coordinator” after all, and that is what it has all come down to in Web 2.0. Selling things to people! Of course! I’m writing a blog after all, so I must preface this stating that I have zero grounds to criticize. Social networking and the advanced global communication the internet provides us have meant many things to many people. For me personally, the internet presents a much better way to shop and avoid standing in lines. For some, it offers a way to connect with other people who want to become mermaids and mermen. At work, I can’t imagine not scoping out companies and personalities by rapidly typing their names in my google search window. Linkedin.com is my Encyclopedia Britannica. I’m probably being redundant even covering this topic.
Katie Jewett is Redundant.
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Like television, the internet offers a consistently increasing selection of channels, lifestyle networks, and markets to advertise to. Once people know what you’re watching, they know what you might buy. The ads on your Facebook page are no coincidence. You can’t escape from a NuvaRing® commercial while watching “Project Runway” or those dancing shadow people flipping out about low interest rates while reading a blog. Online, there is a “Big Brother” aspect to advertising and connecting humans to each other. How does Linkedin.com know who I might want to link up with? I suppose it is reading my gmail. Did I check a box saying I was okay with that? Facebook continues to suggest I befriend the girl from Chicago who hit my car in the Whole Foods parking lot last year. We did exchange gmails, but she is not my friend and I honestly never want to see her again. No thank you, Facebook. You don’t really know me despite reading my diary.
Now, think back. Not too far, just ten years or so. Remember how much longer it took to cruise the web back then? Remember the dawn of websites like www.katie.com
, when attractive young women realized there were some sick weirdos (or, um, regular people…) in cyberspace who would pay to watch them on webcams and help pay their tuition to Stanford? Remember the first episodes of “Survivor” and “Big Brother”? It was the year 2000, and the internet was nothing more than hotmail to me. I hadn’t even begun internet shopping and banking when Josh Harris ostensibly predicted the complex social world wide web we’re all stuck in today. Ondi Timoner’s film, “We Live in Public
”, which I was lucky to see at a multi-cast Q&A event
a few weeks ago, documents Harris’s virtual and literal rise and fall.
Josh Harris was on the internet wave before it came close to washing up on a shore near you. After predicting internet trends at Jupiter Research (his company) in the late eighties and early nineties, Josh threw his millions into web adventures such as Pseudo.com, the first internet television network. Pseudo allowed its viewers to chat online while they watched its streaming video. In the theme of Harris’s endeavors, Pseudo was predictably ahead of its time – only a tiny percentage of Americans had the internet speed necessary to fully engage with it.
Harris’s next experiment was legendary in the ebullient, pre-9/11 “Silicon Alley” days in New York. “It was Manhattan's most outrageous bohemian-chic blowout, a booze-saturated salon that ran nonstop for the entire month of December 1999. SoHo painters and poseurs, gallery owners, the Silicon Alley set, media hounds and media whores, Eurotrash, rappers, ravers, and even a smattering of local politicians converged at a huge, defunct textile factory near City Hall… the four-story space was modern in the extreme, freshly renovated and fitted out with a bizarre smorgasbord of exhibits and X-rated diversions. It was as if a carnival midway had been reconceived by radically libidinous techno-artists.” (Platt, November 2000) In the “pod hotel” or “bunker”, each bunk had its own monitor and camera, and could be tuned in to other people’s bunks. “Quiet: We Live in Public” included free food and drink, one communal shower, a gun range, a life size “Risk” game, and a complete and utter lack of privacy. Before your mind goes to the gross side, I’ll go there for you. They did everything on camera. Yes, that too. To quote Harris in the film regarding the pod hotel, “Everything is free, except for the video that we capture of you. That we own.” The NYPD shut “Quiet” down (as a premillenial cult operation) on January 1, 2000.
It was Harris’s belief that everyone wanted attention, or to be on TV, constantly. The “Quiet” experiment achieved this before broadband and mobile devices made it possible for the rest of us. I’m talking about you, people who update your Facebook statuses from I-phones. You’re kind of all on TV. It’s like, a really boring channel, and we can’t stop watching it. It was status updates that motivated Ondi Timoner to finally cull several years of Josh Harris footage for a documentary. The future had arrived.
Katie Jewett is still redundant.
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Seeing “We Live in Public” made me doubt my acceptance of Facebook, not to mention my Myspace and Friendster pages of old. Did they really disappear when I deleted them, or are they floating in cyberspace somewhere, retaining that embarrassing photo in the halter dress that would certainly derail a run for office? Was my debit card number stolen again because of bananarepublic.com, and is that scammer with the petroleum share in Africa going to call my cell number or show up at my work? Do I really own me? And have I been willingly giving me away since the day I joined Friendster in 2003?
In the early days of social networking, it was a thrill to analyze someone’s relationships via their Friendster Testimonials (Remember Testimonials?). Myspace was a valuable tool for me as a single researcher in 2004, but a destructive force in the post-breakup era of 2007, when I cancelled my account. I joined Facebook in an isolated phase of 2008 and experienced a new, seemingly harmless aspect of social networking in its model – high school. I could never reject a former Chelmsford Lion, even if their names rung with zero familiarity. One of these C.H.S. Facebook friends has no place in my memory. You can imagine my surprise when he wrote asking to stay at my apartment on his cross-country tour of baseball stadiums. My social networking line had been crossed. A Facebook friend does not a real friend maketh you, and certainly not a friend who stays on my couch.
I wouldn’t have lasted a day in the “Quiet” bunker. My mild attention-getting Myspace attempts in the early Web 2.0 days were only meant to attract guys in bands. I don’t really want to update my Facebook status, though I will occasionally write on a wall or post a link or photos (I can limit who sees these... I think.). I’ve become less comfortable with less privacy. Shouldn’t we all be working? I know this isn’t the right thing to say as someone working in a technology-driven industry. I love nothing more than checking out the Denver Egotist
every morning, CNN.com, The Sartorialist, Cute Overload, the convenience and access that the web brings me.
Katie Jewett is a hypocrite.
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I don’t want to give it away, but the last Josh Harris experiment documented in “We Live in Public” involved himself, his girlfriend Tanya, a SoHo loft, and 32 cameras. I’ll only say that neither of them is living in public anymore. Though I was able to find out via interstalking that Tanya is really into yoga, she doesn’t seem to be very active on Linkedin.com, and her Facebook profile is private.
Oh, and you should really see this movie:
“Steaming Video”, (Wired, Issue 8.11, November 2000, Charles Platt)
“He Said, She Said, Web Dread”, (Wired, 2.23.01, Aparna Kumar)