This Might Be a Love Story
June 15th, 2008

Penny and Sean used webcams to maintain their long-distance relationship while Sean was in Berlin. Without telling her, he started filming their conversations and posting them on a vlog. His subscribers warned him that she would find it and get upset. The final post is a video of Penny telling Sean that she found his vlog and breaking up with him.

In the early 90’s, Justin Hall pioneered the art of posting intimate details about himself online. Today this is less exceptional; intimate details are all over the blogosphere, and lifecasters like Jennifer Ringley and Justin Kan video broadcast their lives on a perpetual basis. Hall lifeblogged for 12 years and Ringley kept her webcam site up for 7. Meanwhile, social networking scholar danah boyd describes how social network sites enable people to perform their identities based on their relationships with others. When you look at people’s Facebook profiles, depending on their privacy settings, you can see their friends and read comments on their walls. In this sense, Sean’s vlog is a shy encounter between lifecasting and Love – it is less about Sean as an individual node, and more about the link between him and Penny. You can follow the twitter of individuals, but what if you could follow the twitter between them? I would have followed the twitters of Sean @Penny and Penny @Sean.

As it turns out, Sean’s vlog was fictional. It was produced by Kyle Gilman and titled Truth @ 15 Frames per Second. But there exist similar instances that are non-fictional. Connected Ventures founder and recent firee Jakob Lodwick and Star Magazine editor-at-large Julia Allison have personal blogs, but decided to post intimate details about their relationship on a single site. The experiment lasted seven months and ended this past Valentine’s Day, with a dramatic break-up and most of the content being withdrawn from public view. Videographer Arin Crumley and artist working as a waitress Susan Buice met online and started dating. They agreed to communicate only through artistic media and never speak in person. They transformed their story into a film called Four-Eyed Monsters, which toured numerous film festivals such as Slamdance and SXSW, won awards including the Undiscovered Gems Award from the Sundance Channel, and became the first feature-length movie to be uploaded to YouTube in its entirety. And there are certainly other instances.

Lifeblogging and lifecasting raise issues of privacy and how public exposure influences identity in the 2.0 era. But Truth @ 15 Frames per Second, Jakob and Julia, and Four-Eyed Monsters implicate the privacy between individuals and influence of exposure on the relationship between them, with the latter explicitly incorporating this theme into the film. As Jordy Mont-Reynaud wonders, is it better to have Loved and vlogged than never Loved at all?

The reason I found out about these many-eyed monsters is because I’m in the process of releasing one.

David and I met at our 5-year Stanford reunion in October of 2007. We shared some romance that weekend. Afterwards, he returned to New York and I stayed in San Francisco. This spawned the richest, sexiest, most multimedia long-distance correspondence I’ve ever had. His being mentioned in the WIRED article about my Valentine’s Day experiment in tele-intimacy, which was also posted here on Smart Mobs, finally convinced him to get a webcam. Without him knowing, I video-captured our first videoSkype date. I posted it on YouTube and made it visible only to him. He Loved it. He said he watched it so many times, that he memorized the lines. We started having videoSkype dates every Sunday, around 7pm my time and 10pm his time. I’d capture snippets and post them on YouTube for him. We got creative; he played guitar hero while I danced and stripped a little. It became something beautiful – sometimes semi-choreographed, but always an honest testament of how our relationship was evolving through time.

I began thinking of it as a multimedia reality web show, consisting of video, text, audio, and images. Acts of communication became real-time content. Our Facebook walls, online images tagged with our names, and ultimately all online information about us became content. It wouldn’t matter if viewers/voyeurs missed an episode; our show would always be on, its archives would always be available, and its content would live all over the web. Twitter, Facebook walls, and other many-to-many media would enable us to produce and distribute our show simply by virtue of communicating with each other. Facebook feeds translate peoples’ activities on Facebook into many-to-many communication with their friends. The Passively Multiplayer Online Game translates peoples’ network histories into movements in a game. So what if the online interaction between Lovers were translated into multimedia reality web show? Of course, David and I could maintain channels of communication that were private, just for the two of us. But what if we decided not to?

Content from our relationship is being posted online in chronological order, from his first email to me until the end of the season. There’s so much more to this; it should be done live and in real-time, with live videoSkypes and twitters instead of txt msgs, and kinkier/more private content could be harder to find but associated with clues, like an alternate reality game. A pair of Lovers will someday realize the potential here make something brilliant. For now, the story between David and I is a seed among seeds. To watch the trajectory of our relationship evolve in fast-motion, you are invited to subscribe to the blog.

This Might Be a Love Story, but you’ll have to wait and see.

this might be a Love story

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