Exactly two years ago, in April 2005, I wrote the first chapter on Alchemy in the Media Futures series. Over the course of history, Alchemy always promised more than it could deliver. But it was this promise that captured the imagination of people and drew their Attention to the very impossibility of turning “base metal into gold.”
As it relates to the contemporary Web landscape, Alchemy represents the promise of automatic personalized media creation. It is the nuclear fission of intersecting Web 2.0 services. "Maybe, just maybe, if I go to Web 2.0 Expo I will find that one service that that connects me most fully?" This is the process of extreme triangulation that we- maybe without even knowing- are trying to achieve every moment that we use the Internet to express ourselves. The process is not new. But its reception is.
When Josh Harris broadcast his life in real-time on weliveinpublic.org in 2000, it was received as strange exhibitionism in SoHo. He and his girlfriend Tanya Corin went online in a Warhol art-house kind of way. It wasn't clear what exactly Josh was trying to prove, but like many I was fascinated by the embedded cameras he installed in the Turkish-style bath. On Day 93, long after Tanya walked out and Josh had left it to brokers to sell the 4000 sf+ loft on lower Broadway, a recently arrived journalist who needed a place to crash ended up minding after the apt while it was being shown to potential buyers. All the surveillance gear was very much in place and there was a working live control room where all the cameras flowed into, as well as the external chatter from those across the community grabbing these streams. This writer describes what it was like to be there during these last days:
I am doing laundry all the next day, sitting alone, and I learn how to take advantage of the chatters. After all, I am a visitor in the house of a man I do not know. But they, they've lived here for a while... I ask them if Harris allows people to smoke in the loft. I ask if they know where an iron is. In one particularly surreal moment, I realize I have lost my keys. I enter the chat room and ask if anybody happens to see where I might have left them. One guy tells me to check my pockets. And there they were. From The Cyber House Rules
Eight years ago when he wrote this, we had a different attitude towards pervasive surveillance than we have today. Now, as American Idol, YouTube, Twitter and countless other social media phenomena would attest, the quickest road to celebrity is via one's willingness to become- physically or behaviorally- naked.
And so, how then to describe the performance of Justin.TV? His omnipresent camera cylinder to the left of his perspective is like the pen-above-the-ear of a great investigative journalist- Dustin Hoffman as Carl Bernstein in All the Presidents Men.
Despite his camera, Justin doesn't care about coming off as a disinterested reporter. There is no longer even a pretense that the subject drives the interview. Maybe it's wrong to think of it as an interview at all. The recording instruments are so integrated and obvious that everybody Justin comes into contact with gets their own live studio audience. This shifts the lens of narcissism from Justin to his audience, making him seem almost, well, selfless.
Michael Goldhaber recently defined a "star" as:
(When an attent typically has many audients, thus taking in more net attention than paying out, that person is of course a STAR. )
On the Internet, this is based in large part on one's ability to express oneself openly, across multiple networks. For example, in addition to the live video feed and community chat, Justin makes it easy for us to connect to him via shared social networks:
Justin wants people to pay close Attention to his stream and comment on his blog. This is exactly how stars enrapture their fans: engaging them in production of the very stardom they wish to worship. There is a significant difference between celebrity in the first Internet cycle and now. It is not the tools that matter, since many of them have not changed dramatically, but a growing responsibility that more and more of us feel to express our unique, authentic selves online. Justin.TV, like Tia Tequila of MySpace, Reid Hoffman of LinkedIn, Mark Zukerberg of Facebook and Fred Wilson of Typepad, inspire us to be all that we can be online- to open up our API and let the data flow.
This is the Summer of Love, 40 years later transposed onto the Web.