SilverNotes: Living in public

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The scariest movie at the festival is probably “We Live in Public.” While “Mugabe and the White African” shows a world in which the rule of law means nothing and anything can be taken from you — even your life — “We Live in Public” shows a world in which we’ve already chosen to give up everything. It’s the world in which we live.

Well, kind of. That’s the point Ondi Timoner is trying to make with this audacious documentary, which follows the life and times of Internet pioneer Josh Harris. Mr. Harris foresaw an entirely interconnected world in which every moment of every day is broadcast on the web for all to see. His prophecy was self-fulfilling, as he engineered a series of experimental art projects to see what happened when the cameras switched on, people stopped being polite and started being real.

The results aren’t pretty. Mr. Harris had a nervous breakdown and fled from technology, eventually isolating himself in Ethiopia in a desperate bid to escape from view (and, to be fair, his creditors — before the Internet bubble burst Mr. Harris was worth some $80 million; afterwards, not so much). If Mr. Harris is really the technological prophet “We Live in Public” makes him out to be, it seems that society’s endpoint will be a rejection of technology and a return to a simpler, more private time.

As Ms. Timoner noted in the question and answer period after the film, Mr. Harris is a “cautionary tale, not just a visionary.” Though her conclusions are a little questionable — filming yourself 24/7 and inviting derision from online commenters isn’t exactly the same as Amazon and Facebook creating ads aimed for the individual — it’s a thought-provoking movie about where we’re headed technologically and what happens when we get there. If you missed this afternoon’s screening of “We Live in Public,” the Grand Jury Prize winner at 2009’s Sundance Film Festival, you can check out another screening tomorrow night at 11:45 p.m.

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