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Internet Pioneer's Life In Public Documented In New Film

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Fuseworks Media

After watching We Live In Public, you'll never tweet the same way again. Director Ondi Timoner tells LAURA MCQUILLAN of NZPA why we must stay in control of machines before they take control of us.

Wellington, July 28 NZPA - "Never fear, the internet's here," Ondi Timoner laughs.

Her award-winning documentary We Live in Public, which opened at the New Zealand International Film Festival last week, is a reminder to internet users that there's a real world existing outside the virtual.

We Live in Public follows Josh Harris, "the greatest internet pioneer you've never heard of" -- a man ahead of his time who helped shape today's online social networking from the moment he created the world's first internet TV network, Pseudo, in 1994.

"Nobody could watch it because there was no broadband," Timoner says.

"He didn't care though. He was more concerned with being first than having a viable business."

Five years later, Harris built an underground bunker in New York, where more than 100 people lived, slept, showered and pooped on camera for 30 days in 1999 during a social experiment called Quiet: We Live in Public.

He invited Los Angeles-based, Yale-educated documentarian Timoner to "document cultural history" as it unfolded in the bunker.

Featuring uniforms, a gun range and interrogation room, Quiet's society was Orwellian beyond the wildest dreams of television's Big Brother.

It also showed what people were prepared to do to get their 15 minutes of fame -- from sex in front of a camera to naked parades down the middle of a 20-metre dinner table.

The project was shut down on January 1, 2000, by police who'd received a tipoff that Quiet was a doomsday cult, but man's constant pursuit of fame remained with Harris.

Twitter, Facebook and MySpace now give every Joe Bloggs with an internet connection that opportunity.

Not everyone wants to be a YouTube celebrity, Timoner says, but sharing details of our private lives over the internet is a way to connect and be part of a group.

"From the second we're born, we're alone, ultimately. We're connected by an umbilical cord that's cut and once it's cut we spend the rest of our lives trying to get back to feeling safe in that way," she says.

"The internet comes along and gives us this infinite opportunity to connect, day and night, 24/7 and even to get more than that, some recognition for anything we do and feel like little superstars in our own little way, then more and more and more we post our personal lives online and everybody's living in public."

Timoner is exhausted after a whirlwind world tour to promote the film, which won the Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival, but more than the acclaim We Live In Public has received, Timoner is overjoyed that she was right about the film's timing.

"I knew it was special, and I knew it had to come out right now, because I knew it was about all of us, not just Josh Harris, and how we react to technology and our deep desire to connect and be recognised that ultimately has us herding ourselves into virtual boxes online."

Facebook and Google have become the modern Big Brother, selling their users' information to advertisers for millions of dollars -- a message Timoner wanted to share with her audience.

"As soon as you pull out your phone to tweet about how much you love the movie, you wonder what the f*** you're doing, or you log back onto your page to post something and you're aware of it now.

"It's about consciousness and a tipping point where the virtual world's taking over and just being aware of it, be aware of your boundaries sliding, looking back ten years and think about how you were barely even on email at that point and think about now how you're mainlining the internet."

When the dotcom bubble burst in 2000, it took Pseudo, and Harris' millions, with it, but he wasn't deterred.

He bought a house and rigged it with cameras for a 100-day experiment where anyone with an internet connection could watch and chat about Harris and his girlfriend for 24 hours a day, via a website -- the now-defunct www.weliveinpublic.com.

The experiment lasted 81 days before the couple, tired of living in public, broke up.

Nearly a decade later, Harris is attempting to launch a comeback with the Wired City -- We Live in Public on a multi-household, if not global, scale.

"He still believes that we will all want to rig our houses with surveillance cameras and he wants to have like a central monitoring area," Timoner says..

Just like Pseudo, the idea may sound unbelievable today, but Harris has always been ahead of his time.

"He makes all kinds of counterintuitive claims like `when the economy's in the dumps it's the best time to make money'," Timoner says.

"Lines like that come out of his mouth and I'm like `once again I don't know if you're a buffoon or a genius'.

"If he does it," she says, "I may be tempted to shoot a sequel."

* for pix, contact Rebecca McMillan at the New Zealand Film Festival, rebecca@nzff.co.nz, (04) 802 2575, 0274 555 061

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