College computer programming instructor Noah Dyer is concerned about the mass invasion of privacy perpetrated by the federal government and data-mining corporations.
“The Founding Fathers gave us the Second Amendment because they were afraid of government having more power than its citizens,” he says in a phone interview from his temporary housing in Arizona. “In the digital age, information is power and the government has more of it than citizens and it’s collected secretly.”
Privacy is the topic of the hour. How do you deal with hacker groups like Anonymous? Is Edward Snowden a traitor or hero? Are you a Winter Soldier conservative or a Dark Knight conservative? Dyer is a bit of both. Rather than shrinking the reach of government, he believes cameras should document every move we make. The catch is that corporate and government leaders will also be forced to air every move they make. Dyer believes that such a solution would “turn every man into a god.” He is prepared to live out his utopian vision for the next year to prove that it works.
Beginning on Oct. 20, Dyer says he’ll have cameras document every moment of his life. They will stream it live over the Internet. The viewing audience will watch, free of charge, Dyer eat, sleep, shower, shave, fornicate, defecate, urinate, send email, read email, interact with his four kids, negotiate visits with his ex-wife, manage his stringent diets and open relationships, grade papers, play League of Legends, and debate whether he should grade papers or play League of Legends.
America has seen this sort of thing before. David Blaine “lived” in a clear box suspended over London’s Tower Bridge for 44 days back in 2003. Countless modern artists have slept in gallery windows and glass boxes, so that the viewing public could learn that modern art is terrible. Americans have been able to watch celebrities and wannabe-celebrities live out their lives on primetime reality television for 20 years now. Dyer’s project isn’t a stunt, nor is it scripted, and it’s the furthest thing from a joke (that’s in the FAQs on his Kickstarter account). This, Dyer says, is the start of a movement.
“It may be an exercise in self-improvement or self-actualization if we are a whole society living this way,” he says. “It’s not Big Brother who knows my stuff, it’s every brother who knows my stuff. … Because we are people, we won’t want to rob other people of their humanity.”
When the experiment is over, the University of Advanced Technology professor will launch his 2016 congressional campaign on an anti-privacy—or as he calls it “perfect information”—platform.
Dyer’s credentials and habits fit well with the talking point often used to defend the surveillance state: If you having nothing to hide, why worry? He doesn’t drink, smoke, or do any drugs. He hasn’t been in a fight since a grade school shoving match. He refrains from telling white lies and issuing insincere compliments. “I live more directly than most people live,” he says.
Noah Dyer TV will be more Truman Show than Jersey Shore. There will be limited conflict, few bad decisions, and even less drama, which could explain why he’s only raised $150 on Kickstarter. He needs $300,000 to put his vision into action, and he’s spiced up his pitch.
“Maybe you have an interest in seeing a grown man urinate or defecate. While I hope you will tune out during that portion of the live stream, if you don’t, you will probably be able to see me do that more than 365 times over the course of a year… You may be interested in seeing me, or women who like me, naked. If you don’t tune out of the live stream, you will definitely get to see my showers. And if anyone is willing to have sex with me while I do this experiment, you will get to see it. Only $1 for a year of homebrew porn!” he says in his manifesto.
Dyer’s exhibitionism is at odds with his upbringing. He grew up Mormon, did mission work in Costa Rica after earning a Baccalaureate Degree in psychology, married soon after his return stateside, and fathered four children, two girls, two boys, in six years. He suffered a crisis of faith two years after marrying, dropped Mormonism two years after that, and divorced his wife two years after that.
After the divorce, he spent five years living at Executive Suites. He is a computer programming autodidact and founded a series of “websites no one went to” and games no one played before becoming a professor to help pay the bills, which carried the side benefit of providing him dorm housing for one year. He moved out of the dorms and has crashed at the homes of friends and family ever since.
I learned all of this just by asking him how many children he has. Dyer goes to great lengths to give you the full picture, which is why I rarely had to ask follow-up questions during our two hours of conversation. He pauses at various intervals of the interview. He uses the silence to determine whether or not he has been evasive. If he decides he has, he will volunteer information no matter the question asked.
He pauses after divulging his unorthodox living arrangements and, with no probing, adds that “couch surfing” is a euphemism for staying with his various girlfriends. His girlfriends don’t share his views on total openness.
“They are concerned about having sex because they would be naked on tape,” he says. “There’s fear that this will be the ultimate experiment [of our love life], but I think by the end they will see our relationship didn’t change.”
While Dyer is optimistic that total oversharing will bring about utopia, he’s realistic about the challenges of his experiment. He realizes the camera crew will inhibit his ability to use public restrooms or visit restaurants whose patrons may not like the idea of being livestreamed into what amounts to a 24/7 campaign commercial. He expects his contacts to be guarded when they email him since he intends to use a split screen so viewers can read his messages.
“To whatever degree live recording modifies my behavior or people I interact with modify their behavior is a good thing,” he says. “Behavior changes, but that’s part of my premise. Maybe there’ll be a day when I should be doing grading, but I want to play League of Legends. Maybe I’ll do the grading.”
That’s a lot of pressure for one man, knowing that his bosses can monitor every move he makes, but eventually constant surveillance will make “society in general relax.” Employees may feel bad about taking a break from work to look at pornography, but maybe total surveillance will make bosses realize that “everyone needs a one hour porn break.” Norms will evolve in an era of perfect information to reflect the reality of human existence, rather than the traditions that have existed throughout history. If it sounds utopian, that’s because it is. Dyer may be fine with people watching him use the bathroom and shower, but he’s not a famous actress. He’s already thought that through.
“When everybody’s habits are revealed, courtesy would be the norm. In a world that’s totally open, you still don’t want me to watch you go to the bathroom. If I did choose to consume it, it would be out there that I’m a bathroom watcher,” he says. “I think that there are social shaming type consequences out there. People may take actions against discourteous activities.”
Shame and violence sound reasonable to this Irish Catholic, and he almost has me convinced, but then Dyer goes down the rabbit hole.
“Employers would be justified in saying that you have violated our societal norm by being a bathroom watcher and I’m not comfortable employing someone who has that trait,” he says.
“I don’t anticipate watching people go to the bathroom will become popular. But maybe it will and if society comes to accept bathroom watching, then society would punish the employer for mixing his professional and private views.”
Dyer says that he is not a “bathroom watcher” and doesn’t think society is headed in that direction, but he’s open to the possibility. He just hopes that the general public will give him a fair hearing instead of dismissing him as a crank. If elected to Congress, he will work to bring more people into his perfect information point of view by targeting groups of people the general public doesn’t respect.
He’d start with felons, who don’t deserve privacy (they’ll be able to have jobs since people will be reassured that they can’t possibly commit any more crimes). Then he’ll move onto babies, who don’t have any sense of privacy anyway (how he’ll sell this to breastfeeding mothers is unclear). Then he’ll move onto politicians, who surrender their privacy when they enter the political arena.
I ask him if that includes the president when he learns the nuclear codes. In Dyer’s world, the nuclear codes should be broadcast on a splitscreen, just like his emails.
“Everything you do should be public information and when it comes to our military we outmatch everyone, so I’m not worried,” he says.
The exchange reminded me of Dyer’s manifesto. Going to the bathroom or having sex on camera is one thing. People do that all the time in 21st century America. One statement in his Kickstarter pitch stood out though: “You will see my bank account transaction and balances.”
I ask him if he procured any form of identity theft protection.
“I didn’t think about that,” he says.