we live in public

listening to: dubstep radio on last.fm

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One of the best things I’ve seen in a while was the documentary “We Live in Public”, which took a big prize at this year’s Sundance. It’s about a guy named Josh Harris who was a little too ahead of his time: he saw where the Internet was headed, how we’d all be living on it, and this visionary prowess made him and cost him.

Josh is a good friend of another Internet guy, Jason Calacanis, who is not just friend to me but spouse and brother-in-law to others who are friends to me. Variously aged versions of Jason appear with startling frequency throughout the documentary. Which has a lot to do with how and why I found myself at this private screening at a gorgeous Bel Air home with the most awesome deck in the world. You watch the movie, then sit out by the firepit and watch the view.

It was at the firepit I first met Josh. We seemed to get along in a slightly argumentative, not-really-getting-along kind of way. I’d heard about him years ago, when yet another New York Internet guy — Adeo Ressi* — explained the concept of one of Josh’s projects that was still going on at the time. People volunteered to live in an underground bunker for a month and be filmed 24/7, doing absolutely everything. Everything.

Keep in mind this was before the explosion of reality shows, and if it sounds like an embryonic form of Big Brother….well, amp it up several notches, make it X-rated, throw in a firing range — a freaking firing range — and a dash of Burning Man, sprinkle in some general madness, and you still won’t know what I’m talking about until you see the damn thing for yourself.

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But what I ended up taking away from the film and turning over in my head had nothing to do with the Internet or living on camera, online, in public. If anything, the opposite: how fiercely some of us turn inward as kids, and why. How we find our obsessions, how they shape us as adults.

Spend a bit of time with Josh, and anyone even remotely perceptive can tell that this guy is not from a “Leave It To Beaver” kind of childhood. The film describes how he escaped into TV, how he was “raised by TV”, and you grasp within a few short scenes how the boy is the father of the man.

I know a few people who had a similar thing going on, including myself: creating other lives running alongside and underneath the so-called real ones. Maybe it’s a certain type of mind, an intensity and tendency to obsess, as well as being born in the wrong place, wrong moment, perhaps the wrong family. For whatever reasons — and I won’t bother to list them — you survive through a necessary degree of disengagement and detachment. You turn to something else. You find solace there, and stimulation, and then your identity, your future.

I was raised by books, like a girl raised by wolves, stranger in the strange land that everyone else considered normal. It’s not how I would have chosen my life to be — who wants to be the alien? — but you make what you can with what you’ve got.

You grow up, you leave, you find others of your tribe, you learn how belonging nowhere can be a way of belonging everywhere.

And if you’re lucky, you find ways to step out of yourself, recognize how the tricks and methods that used to get you through, eventually turn against you.

That part’s a little bit harder.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_XSTwfdFwIY

*Adeo also turns up in the documentary.

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