Site Specifics: I Love Alaska
By Jesse P. Finnegan
An examination of online culture and personal privacy through the documentary I Love Alaska
I Love Alaska opens with a telling fact: “On August 4, 2006, AOL accidentally published a text file on its website containing three months’ worth of search keywords submitted by over 650,000 users.” Commissioned by the Submarine Channel for Minimovies.org, Lernert Engelberts and Sander Plug’s episodic work simply could not have existed—as an idea, as a film, as a distributed piece—without the Internet. Consider it a remote feed from the far side of the Web, an accidental transmission from the server behind the curtain. As the partial search history of a single user, known as #711391, is intoned over glacial compositions of the Alaskan landscape, each entry opens a peephole upon an overwhelming portrait of otherness. “Has anyone ever told you how proud of you they are?” #711391 enters early on, catechizing the Web with bluntly direct questions, and epigrams to be tested (“Bad dreams mean unfinished business in your life”).
With her weak grasp of search techniques and plainspoken need for guidance, #711391’s search bar becomes confessor, therapist, oracle. The three months logged will produce the following insights: “Don’t cut your hair before a big event,” “People are not the same in person as they are on the Internet,” and “I thought I could handle an affair but I couldn’t.”
Yes, I Love Alaska chronicles the extremely private progress of one emotionally isolated woman’s woeful extramarital affair. It is a cold, disturbing invasion, but a reminder that personal privacy has become a total abstraction in online culture. By extracting one woman’s digital traces and displaying them for the very world of which they were an invisible by-product, I Love Alaska makes the cached permanence of our roving, unconsidered engagements with the Web utterly and unsettlingly tangible.
In I Love Alaska we learn that every search history constitutes an incidental archive of the self. Keywords now provide access into that fabled perpetual process of the interior life: “searching.” It may be unfair to presume we have a coherent picture of user #711391, but the bottomless solitude of being trapped in one’s own skin has rarely been conjured in fewer words than “Why can’t I sleep since I had a hysterectomy?”