Nominate Joshua Harris for Director of MIT!

Paul Raven @ 02-12-2010

Okay, here’s something of a guest-post. I got a message a few days ago from someone who I’m reasonably convinced is actually Joshua Harris – subject of the movie We Live In Public, which I mentioned a while ago. Why am I convinced that this out-of-the-blue contact is from the actual Josh Harris and not some imposter pulling my leg? Well, I don’t think an imposter could pull off the degree of chutzpah on display here; you see, Joshua Harris wants me – and all of the rest of you, too – to nominate him for the post of Director at MIT’s Media Lab.

No, seriously. Here’s his message to you, verbatim:

dear futurismic readers:

my name is josh harris and i build human chicken factories of the future (or what i call The Wired City).  the idea is to build the future out as far in advance as possible NOW so that we will gain perspective on the world that we are walking into 15 years from now.

i figure any loyalish futurismic reader can extrapolate where The Wired City is headed so i’ll leave that to your imagination and comments.  if elected as the new Director of the MIT Media Lab i promise to hear any and all futurismic reader ideas and suggestions.

read/view the links below, if it what i am saying makes sense to you then by all means please nominate me for Director of the MIT Media Lab.  and pass the word along.

sincerely,

josh harris candidate – Director, MIT Media Lab

Here’s some contextual content for you to browse through, as supplied by Harris himself:

(For my money, the TechCrunch link at the top is the one that’ll get you up to speed quickest.)

And here’s the blurb from a one-sheet run-down on the Wired City project:

THE WIRED CITY

(The Internet Television Network)

The Wired City (TWC) orchestrates millions of hours of audience “self surveillance” into a hierarchical system that generates compelling broadcast and netcast quality programming.

Key production elements of The Wired City include:

  • Real-time chat video switching (next generation social graph).
  • 24/7 netcasting studios that efficiently process mass data signals generated by the audience.
  • Massive multiplayer online gaming element (winning audience members get to live on set and get special powers and privileges).
  • Hollywood style production values produced by and for netcasting audiences.
  • Hearts and minds.  Audience members are letting each other into their homes and lives (the camera is turned on them).
  • Bonafication.  Audience members get their 15 minutes of fame every day.
  • 1 million hours of net generated programming is distilled into one hour of prime time broadcast programming, every day.

Key commerce elements of The Wired City include:

  • Micro aggregation of mass audiences returning broadcast quality CPM revenues.
  • A more direct relationship/bond between audience and sponsors.
  • Coordination of mass audiences as tastemakers and influencers generates traction with sponsors.

Relevant Professional Background – Josh Harris

  • CEO – Operator11 Exchange Corporation (2006 – 2007): Web 3.0 Internet television network.
  • We Live In Public, LLC (2000 -2001): Art project designed to dramatically produce home surveillance (subsequent film won Sundance Grand Jury Prize for documentary in 2009).
  • Quiet (1999): Art project as net studio prototype of The Wired City (compared to Truman Capote’s “Black and White Party” by MOMA NYC).
  • CEO and Founder Pseudo Programs, Inc. (1994 -1998): Internet television network.
  • CEO and Founder Jupiter Communications (1986 – 1994): Internet research and consulting (went public 1999).

And here’s the MIT action that Harris wants to combine with his Wired City idea: a computer system that can precisely identify mouse behaviour patterns from camera footage. In real-time.

If you have no idea who Joshua Harris is, then I’d suggest you should find out; his is a pretty fascinating story, whichever way you look at it. Those of you who do know who he is are either thinking “hell yeah, give the guy the job!” or “giving him that job would be madness of the highest order”… or possibly both at once, which is the camp in which I find myself. There’s no doubt at all that Harris is a loose cannon of prodigious proportions, but it’s also impossible to deny that he saw the rise of the soc-net participatory panopticon and the ultimate ethical outer limits of “reality” television programming long before either actually existed, and he made that vision an undiluted (and pretty terrifying) reality.

He’s a smart guy, possibly dangerously so, but it’s dangerous intelligence that has the best chance of thinking outside the cliches and seeing the futures that we don’t want to imagine; partner Harris with the MIT boffins to regulate the more extreme ethical weirdness, and The Wired City could be a crucial experimental window into our ubicomp-everyware-lifelogged near-future, a Stanford Prison Experiment for the twenty-teens… not to mention a form of reality television more deserving of the name.

I have no idea whether MIT would even honour a mass nomination of Harris to the directorship of the Media Lab or not… but I went and nominated the guy anyway, because I’m a sucker for visionary outliers, and because discovering the surprisingly unknown story of the Quiet project totally blew my mind. If you’re a sucker for mad genius too, or if you think we should be experimenting more boldly with the effects of complete mediation of the human experience, maybe you should nominate him too.

To nominate Joshua Harris for Director of MIT’s Media Lab, go to this webpage, enter your own information as nominator, and the following for Harris as nominee:

  • Name: Joshua Harris
  • Phone:  310 801-2294
  • Email: mjluvvy@gmail.com

[ Yes, I am taking this at face value; no, this is not a joke post. ]


The Exhumation Factor: just when you thought reality TV couldn’t get any weirder…

Paul Raven @ 15-01-2010

… you find a story that says the UK’s Channel 4 is seeking terminally ill volunteers who are willing to undergo embalming and mummification, Ancient Egyptian style, after they’ve died. [image by broma]

Granted, the piece is in the Daily Mail, whose knee-jerk revulsion toward such unpatriotic and liberal notions as truth and objectivity is almost a legend in its own right, but the absence of any blame being pinned on asylum seekers, homosexuals, single parents or Muslims (or some unholy combination of the four) suggests they may actually have dug up (arf!) a real story here. Curtain-twitching outrage is a certainty, though I can’t really see it as being any different to leaving one’s body to medical research… and if the subject gets paid enough to ease the discomfort of their last days, I guess everyone’s a winner.

It does make you wonder where reality programming will run out of steam, though. This mummification idea at least has genuine novelty by comparison to much of the current crop… though I might hold out for the commisioning of Celebrity Mummies Come Dancing on Ice in the Jungle Idol Factor.


Fake Big Brother, bogus Balls of Steel: the *real* reality television

Paul Raven @ 11-09-2009

video cameraNow here’s an example of the serendipitous way that stories seem to glom together when you blog regularly. A few days ago I noticed a post at MetaFilter about Ikea Heights, a rather silly guerrilla drama show filmed entirely in a large Ikea store without the permission (or, apparently, the awareness) of the staff, and I felt a push on my “interesting” switch. [image by ZapTheDingbat]

I felt sure there was something to say about the eroding barrier between “official” television and amateur media, about the reappropriation of corporate spaces for unofficial purposes, and about the potential for a more genuine (if no more pleasant) form of reality television – namely, one not constrained by the laws and vetting processes that a real production company would have to obey to get clearance for their shows.

I kicked the post around a bit, but I just couldn’t find a decent hook to lead from Ikea Heights to where I wanted to go… until last night, when I noticed a story at The Guardian about a fake Big Brother-esque set-up in Turkey where someone convinced a bunch of young female models to move into a luxury villa full of cameras:

The women had responded to an ad seeking contestants for a reality show which would be aired on a major Turkish television station, Dogan said. The nine captives, including a teenager, were selected from other applicants following an interview.

They were made to sign a contract which stipulated that they could have no contact with their families or the outside world, and would have to pay a fine of 50,000 Turkish lira (£20,000) if they left the show in the first two months, the agency reported.

Dogan and HaberTurk newspaper both reported that the women realised they were being duped and asked to leave the villa. According to Dogan, they were told they could not leave unless they paid the fine. Those who insisted were threatened.

Thinking about it, I’m almost surprised that no one had done it before. But that story really highlights how much of an oxymoron “reality television” actually is… reality programming is in many senses less “real” than almost any other sort of television, thanks to the editing processes used to make the tedium of normal human interaction more interesting. The only way to make real reality shows would be to circumvent not just laws but customary production values… would the results be more popular than television or less? I rather suspect they would. Would the excitement of the best moments of totally unfiltered reality balance out the long stretches of mundanity that inevitably accompany the daily lives of real people? In other words – would people watch a house full of people who had no idea they were being watched?

I’ve also been wondering about “candid camera” shows, which appear to be making something of a comeback in a more edgy format – I’m thinking specifically of a show here in the UK called Balls of Steel, wherein the contestants go out into the world and do weird, shameful, embarrassing or provocative things in front of the unsuspecting public. [There are some clips on the Channel 4 website, if you’ve not seen it.]

Now, if I understand the law properly, these shows can’t be as completely guerrilla as they claim to be – at the very least, I’m sure they’d have to get permission from the victims to broadcast their humiliation or risk a lawsuit, and I imagine that financial recompense of some sort comes into the equation… and that’s charitably assuming that the things aren’t fakes from the ground upwards, with the “victims” being completely aware of what’s about to happen to them. While it’s never explicitly stated that the stunts are set-ups, every effort is spent on framing them as if they definitely aren’t – the jokes lose all force when you realise that the guy who just had a bag full of cheeseburgers lobbed at his head from a passing car knew they were coming.

But we now have the affordable technology (hand-held video cameras of passable picture quality) and the multicast infrastructure (YouTube, Vimeo and all the others) for genuinely anonymous and unsanctioned candid camera and reality programs. Remember the “happy slapping” fad? If the participants had taken more care over making themselves and their uploaded videos untraceable, and focussed on doing things that the victims would be too embarrassed to report to the authorities, you could have had a viral guerrilla video success on your hands.

Genuine discomfort, genuine humiliation; the television networks would do it if the law would let them, because they know how popular it would be, and how valuable the ads accompanying it. It won’t be long before a few smart people come to the same conclusion… and that will be the final death-knell for broadcast television, reality or otherwise.