What matters

This heretical idea I’m getting that goodness or intelligence is more interesting than fame comes from, I think, doing an ethics column (which is how I spend my time when I’m not chatting with you folks). They warned me I’d start getting all serious and thinking about stuff, which isn’t an advantage for conducting a life in the wash of global pop culture. Seriousness is time-consuming, and fame is fast. Some would even say fame is fleeting, but we have the Web for that.

In our everyone’s-a-winner-if-they-say-so culture, if you’re paying attention to me, I’m worth paying attention to, which gets shortened to the more comprehensive “I am worthy.” Make a big enough noise and people have to admire you. This leads to some pathetic stretches—Temptation Island, anyone?—for the brass ring.

Currently the most aggressive ring pursuant is Josh Harris, who used to run an NYC Web studio called Pseudo. Modeled on Warhol’s Factory, Pseudo threw tons of parties and did Web broadcasts that no one I ever met ever saw. When the dot-com fever broke, so did Pseudo. Now Harris, unchastened by the experience (and why should he be, it wasn’t his money), has a new project going called WeLiveInPublic: He and his girlfriend have installed 32 cameras around their swank loft and are living their lives online for your entertainment. The cameras—our eyes—are everywhere. There’s one in the toilet, for heaven’s sake. You have no idea how high that is on the list of Things I Don’t Need to See.

Josh and Tanya are pretty people and their loft is impressive, and all this fabulousness has attracted the kind of folk who can’t help themselves around that sort of thing. A minor rock star (not the one who punched that journalist) had a launch party there. Vanity Fair dropped in for a photo shoot. Fame descends again upon Josh Harris’ entrepreneurial shoulders. Can more venture cap be far behind?

We make assumptions about such folk after decades of seeing similar people on TV: specifically, that anyone you see on-screen must be interesting simply because they’re there. What if Josh Harris were poor, not rich? Black, not white? Living with kids and an elderly parent, rather than with a photogenic blonde girlfriend? Were Harris an African-American man living in a cramped apartment on public assistance, the only folk wanting to hook up a Web cam in his home would be Dubya’s Health and Human Services department, and that not for entertainment but For His Own Good. (Shhh, please, let’s don’t give those jackasses any more ideas for messing with poor folks’ heads.)

I’m part of the problem, of course. Whatever I claim about using agunn.com as a strictly personal Web site, by virtue of putting it online, I’m seeking something that may be related to the thing that Josh Harris is seeking. I’m pretty sure it’s not VC, though—I’m just not that nervy. In fact, if you visit my site, you’ll find that it’s pretty quiet and text-intensive, as am I. You will never, ever, EVER see me trotting around under the watch of a surveillance camera. (Promise.) And though I think I reveal more about myself in my writing than you’d learn about me from watching any Web cam, there’s stuff you won’t learn if I don’t tell you.

Like that I’m leaving you. This is my last ASCII column.

You can’t see the boxes, but I can tell you they’re sitting by my computer desk. You can’t hear the phone conversations with the NYC brokers, but you understand now why I’m so envious of Harris’ loft. You couldn’t have known I was about to be gone, but I will never be gone if you prefer; I didn’t talk about the departure on agunn.com because agunn.com, and the person I am there, aren’t leaving their cyberspace homestead. I inhabit my site more fully than Harris could ever inhabit his apartment.

WeLiveInPublic operates on a false premise: that by knowing the sum of a person’s actions, we can know who they are. The Web’s first promise was that by giving each of us a way of presenting ourselves in a terrain free of our human bodies and our human oddities in cyberspace’s green and pleasant land where no one knows you’re a dog (etc.), we become a species more connected, more able to appreciate what matters beneath the mannerisms and the hair color and the skin. By presenting the essence of what we are—our thoughts—we offer each other the chance to become, in an unfashionably ethical turn of phrase, better people.

And I believe again.