CHICAGO — We are “connected” yet always alone. It’s a shared sentiment that will define this internet generation of likers, commenters, rebloggers, texters, and pinners. These are the selfie-shooters who take smartphone images of themselves in the privacy of their bathrooms and then share them on the very public yet semi-anonymous internet, and who use email to reveal secrets, as if confessing to crimes. Sherry Turkle’s book Alone Together speaks to this sort of “socializing” created by the internet, and the way we are able to be in constant contact through our devices, yet feel very much alone. In fact, we may have forgotten how to be alone — what with our iDistractions as Jonathan Safron Foer writes in his curious op-ed “How to Not Be Alone” — or is it that we no longer even desire those solitary moments? Indeed, quietness and solitude are obviously reserved for Buddhist monks living high above the clouds in fill-in-the-blank remote country, existing in a spiritual space that is unattainable in our modern American world. Or is it?
Miranda July’s new project We Think Alone toys with this notion, blurring the lines between a public confession and a private thought, asking participants Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Lena Dunham, Kirsten Dunst, Sheila Heti, Etgar Keret, Late and Laura Mulleavy, Catherine Opie Lee Smolin and Danh Vo to share emails they’ve written which have already been sent, received and processed by someone on the receiving end. They are private thoughts, correspondences, and even confessions. And hopefully they will be as juicy as James Joyce’s dirty love letters, which were most definitely concocted in private or as hilarious as The Daily Rumpus, which delivers overly personal emails from Stephen Rumpus himself.
Sign up for the project at wethinkalone.com, and beginning on July 1 and running through November 11, 2013, every Monday a themed collection of emails will appear in your inbox. The theme “an email about money” will kick off the project on July 1. “We Think Alone” was commissioned by Stockholm’s Magasin 3 contemporary art museum for a show called On the Tip of My Tongue. It will not have a physical component, instead existing only in inboxes around the world. The project stems out of July’s interest in reading her friends’ emails — of being privy to private conversations between people.
“I’m always trying to get my friends to forward me emails they’ve sent to other people — to their mom, their boyfriend, their agent — the more mundane the better. How they comport themselves in email is so intimate, almost obscene — a glimpse of them from their own point of view,” she writes on the website’s About section.
Unlike the average non-hacker American, who would not be able to score “private” emails sent by Lena Dunham, July’s project also offers a look into the inboxes of some of today’s most influential creative people. This adds a celebrity component to the project, and serves as a reminder that famous people, though they may have more sets of eyes on them than your average Joe, still live on planet Earth and struggle with the same human things that we all do.
The public/private line blurring of July’s project couldn’t have come at a better time. We are living in an age of ever evolving privacy that is characterized by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden who leaked details of the government’s mass surveillance programs, which include access to the electronic communications of ordinary Americans. July’s project suggests the ways that we are already aware of living in public while also investigating the evolving mediums of communication .
“And email itself is changing, none of us use it exactly the way we did 10 years ago; in another 10 years we may not use it at all,” she writes.
“We Think Alone” is reminiscent of July’s hit film Me and You and Everyone We Know, which similarly investigates a curated array of characters attempting to form real, lasting relationships in an age characterized by chatrooms, texting and an awkwardness that can only be brought on by technology.
“We Think Alone” is part of the On the Tip of My Tongue exhibition (Magasin 3, Frihamnen SE – 115 56, Stockholm, Sweden) and runs in your email inbox starting July 1 and continuing until November 11, when the exhibition also closes.