Living In Public
I love taking ideas to their logical extremes. Unnoticeable problems become comparatively enormous problems whenever you zoom in on something. Through this technique you can determine inaccurate presuppositions of ideas.
One of my favorite new applications of this technique was in the controversial “Quiet: We Live in Public” experiment conducted by Josh Harris, an odd, prophetic dot-com millionaire. The experiment placed 100 artists in an underground lair with webcams recording their every move (and everyone could tune into any webcam they chose through a TV in their sleeping quarters).
People started to freak out and their mental health started to diminish. No moments were intimate, as they were all public for everyone to see.
With Quiet, Harris proved how, in the not-so-distant future of life online, we will willingly trade our privacy for the connection and recognition we all deeply desire. Through his experiments, including another six-month stint living under 24-hour live surveillance online which led him to mental collapse, he demonstrated the price we will all pay for living in public.
Harris conducted his experiment in 1999. His ideas on where the world was going, I think, were deeply prophetic. Oversharing and consuming the oversharing of others keeps us from developing deep relationships that matter.
Developing deep, intimate relationships is a critical health issue. Dr. Dean Ornish explains:
I am not aware of any other factor — not diet, not smoking, not exercise, not stress, not genetics, not drugs, not surgery — that has a greater impact on our incidence of illness, and [chance of] premature death.
Feeling like you’re always in public makes you feel like you cannot ever turn off and be your natural self. This issue is part of a larger issue wherein western society considers “me, myself, and I” to be the most important thing. Young males are particularly at risk: they start to lose their close relationships around 16, at which point their suicide rate raises to 4x that of women.
I’ve had several good friends fall victim to mental illness. I thought this was just an atypical experience, but then I learned that almost 50% of Americans would qualify for a DSM illness at some point in their lives (compare this to roughly a quarter of Europeans).
There are so many products out there that allow people to share and reward them for sharing, but there are so few that aim to build or augment deep relationships. People exercise and take vitamins to prevent physical health issues, but they don’t treat their mental health with the some preventative approach. We need to start looking at these issues as a serious problem, or else they’ll snowball like Josh Harris predicted 17 years ago.
What we are facing today is the fact that through our scientific and technological genius we’ve made of this world a neighborhood. And now through our moral and ethical commitment we must make of it a brotherhood.
Martin Luther King Jr.