When Genius and Insanity Hold Hands: Ondi Timoner (Transcript)

Following is the full transcript of American film director Ondi Timoner’s TEDx Talk: When Genius and Insanity Hold Hands @ TEDxKC conference. To learn more about the speaker, read the bio here.

 

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Ondi Timoner – American film director

Few hundred years ago, the lions and tigers were kings of the jungle, and then they wound up in zoos.

“I predict the same will happen to us.” Internet pioneer Josh Harris told me this from deep inside a bunker in Manhattan at the turn of the millennium.

He meant that we would herd ourselves into our own virtual boxes — our phones and computers and only realize once we’ve been enslaved. And he was right.

Most of us in this room can’t go about an hour without checking for messages and updates. Our every move is recorded and tracked. We’re never offline.

We’re overwhelmed by our email but concerned if the load lightens. Our so-forth rises and falls with the numbers of likes and comments we receive. In fact, research has shown that our brains release a hit of dopamine every time we post something personal about ourselves and receive attention from our social networks in return.

Josh Harris made millions in the 90s, forecasting internet trends and he even started the first Internet television network long before there was broadband. He was determined to spend his money to create a living social experiment that would give us all a vision of his — of our future online.

He predicted that we would trade our privacy and eventually our freedom for the recognition and connection we so dearly crave. His miniature society had 150 living pods, an 80 foot long dining room table and a gun range. There were over 110 surveillance cameras in the space, and everybody had their own screen to watch each other.

He told them, “everything’s free except your image that we own.” Yet hundreds lined up for a spot, answering 500 questions about the most personal aspects of their lives, donning uniforms, subjecting themselves to interrogations. They lived in public for weeks until the SWAT team shut it down, perceiving it to be a millennial cult on New Year’s Day 2000.

But Josh had proved his point. With the internet, well each want a 15 minutes of fame every day and he withstood ridicule for this vision especially when he showed up in the bunker dressed as his alter ego lovey the clown, who symbolized his consumption of electronic calories from overdosing on TV and media all of his life.

10 years later, his Facebook soared in popularity and we were posting what we had for breakfast online. It became clear that the bunker had come true.

We’ve always been interested in watching each other, from painting on cave walls to peeking over our neighbor’s fence, we’re fascinated by each other. We want our lives to matter and we’re desperately uncomfortable with the notion that it might all be meaningless. So we seek to be remembered long before we’re gone.

We live in public is really a warning shot across the bow of the future and it’s a horror film starring all of us scarier now that it’s come true than when it was mere prophecy about five years ago.

But there’s an alternative to this kind of self-destructive creativity. And for the first time ever almost all of us have access to it. We each have moments. When we see something that can be done better or differently and we either go out there and step out of line and pursue that or more likely we consider the consequences and stay the course.

Meanwhile we post a pretty picture with a preset filter and enjoy praise from the web but this might be a distraction, a temporary feeling of importance that needs to be constantly maintained and only delays us for making our real contribution.

For me, the camera’s been a bridge into worlds I could never otherwise enter — from prisons to army barracks, from Mad rock-and-roll escapades to climatology labs and even deep inside a cult. It’s given me permission to enter and ask questions and with a camera in my hand I find people answer them.

Renoir says, “every director makes the same film again and again.”

When I first heard that I thought gosh how boring, hope I don’t do that. And then now looking back I realize actually I kind of do and most of us do. We track some kind of human aspect — aspect of human behavior across all of our work. For me that’s meant looking at what people will give up to have their lives matter.

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