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IPFS News Link • Surveillance

The Dictated Psychology of Network Society

Josh Harris, a notorious pioneer of the Internet Age, ran a surprisingly little-known experiment in Manhattan at the end of the 1990s, ironically called "Quiet: We Live in Public". It consisted of 100 artists living in a basement "hotel" that was outfitted with pod rooms, and it lasted for one month before being shut down on the first day of the new millennium. The hotel offered "free" food, drinks and entertainment for the duration of a person's stay, but it charged an extremely hefty price in return. Each pod contained a video camera and monitor system that was networked to those in every other pod, so that each person could observe what any other person was doing when he/she was no longer in one of the communal areas. The artists could not eat, shower, sleep, use the bathroom or engage in sexual activity without someone potentially watching them do it. Harris designed the experiment to showcase the Orwellian future he envisioned for our technocratic network society, and the ways in which people will react to this new reality. As one may expect, many of the self-proclaimed "open-minded" artists, who initially jumped at the opportunity to "live in public", quickly devolved into little more than territorial animals. The situation would have most likely resulted in deadly violence if it had not been stopped by the police and fire department, especially since the hotel contained a shooting range and a cadre of guns. It was not really the loss of privacy that spurred this rapid social deterioration, but the loss of any meaningful control over one's ability to remain private. Harris himself had a partial "mental breakdown" after he continued the panoptic experiment for six more months with his girlfriend in their loft apartment.