As a teenager finding first love in the lyrics of my favorite bands’ songs, I longed to get backstage at concerts to find out more about these artists than their stage banter or liner notes could tell me. Little did I know that roughly a decade-and-a-half later technology would be such that I am inundated on the daily with those same artists’ 140-character midnight musings and Instagrammed photos of their latest meals.
Thanks to advances in technology and the rise of social media, the barrier between the famous and their fans has blurred to the point of almost disappearing altogether, but one artist has found a way to grant the public access to a previously untapped aspect of the private lives of celebrities: their emails.
For her 2013 project, “We Think Alone,” commissioned for Stockholm museum Magasin 3, Los Angeles-based filmmaker/author/performance artist Miranda July asked ten celebrities, including basketball star Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, “Girls” creator Lena Dunham, and actress Kirsten Dunst, to scour their sent email folders for messages fitting a range of themes.
Each week for 20 weeks, July then sent all the emails on a single theme to the inboxes of those who wished to receive them. These themes ranged from the financial (“An Email About Money”) to the familial (“An Email To Your Mom”) to the technological (“An Email About A Problem You’re Having With Your Computer”), and according to July, when the final email went out on November 11, 2013, the project had 104,897 readers from 170 countries.
Unfortunately for those who are just now hearing about “We Think Alone,” there is no official archive of the emails, though several publications have commented on their content. The Huffington Post shared the best quotes from the project; NPR.com found Lena Dunham’s debate over buying a $24,000 couch noteworthy; and Time.com’s Sarah Begley summed up the experience of receiving the emails by stating that “It’s impossible not to get through the series without developing strong feelings about who you would and would not want to befriend.”
Of course, the timing of July’s sharing of the private emails of her subjects couldn’t have been more appropriate.
In June of this year (long after the artist set the wheels in motion for the “We Think Alone” project), former National Security Agency (NSA) contractor Edward Snowden leaked up to 1.7 million classified NSA documents to several media outlets, revealing the vast scope of Internet spying by the United States and other Western countries.
In addition to launching the subject of privacy to the forefront of the global consciousness, the revelations lead to a flurry of criticism by everyone from the United Nations, who adopted a resolution titled “The right to privacy in the digital age” in November of this year, to tech behemoths Google, Facebook, Apple, Microsoft, Twitter, Yahoo, LinkedIn, and AOL, who came together in an open letter to President Obama criticizing the U.S.’s current surveillance policy. Even Dictionary.com weighed in on the issue, declaring “privacy” the word of the year.
While the subjects of July’s project were obviously well aware of the sharing of their private emails, the controversy surrounding the NSA leaks and the aftermath that ensued add a new layer of meaning to “We Think Alone.” As July herself says on the About page for the project, “Privacy, the art of it, is evolving,” and 2013 was most definitely a year that caused us all — celebrities and non-celebrities alike — to consider what it means to have our private online thoughts become not-so-private.
As the Co-Founder and Lead Writer/Editor for LA Music Blog, a Los Angeles-based music news and review website, Kristin Houser’s life revolves around music and technology. She has been an avid fan of music ever since discovering her parents’ vinyl collection while still in elementary school, and she is fascinated by all the ways technology allows her to discover new music and share it with the world. She currently manages a staff of fifteen writers and contributors at LA Music Blog, and when she isn’t scouring the internet for her latest musical obsession, Kristin frequents Los Angeles’ many music venues where she can usually be found hovering near the front of house engineer while jotting down set lists in her smart phone. She is very pleased to share her latest music obsessions and all the ways technology allows her to discover and enjoy music with iQ by Intel’s audience.