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Deliberate dialing

Luke Johnson wants to take your call

 by Natasha Ryan
 published on Thursday, November 2, 2006


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There's a new YouTube sensation in the Valley, and he has the blogosphere in a frenzy.

His name is Luke Johnson, and he wants you, your mother and her bridge club to give him a ring.

The Gilbert native displayed his cell phone number in a video posted on Sept. 18 on YouTube.com, asking strangers from all over the realm of cyberspace to call him.

It's not the rhetoric of a lonely geek looking for love; it's the Luke Johnson Phone Experiment.

The aspiring filmmaker wants to see how many people will spontaneously call a stranger. Armed with an unlimited phone plan and a trusty metal counter, he's logging the incoming participants at the speed of sound.

So far, Johnson has received more than 5,000 calls from countries spanning the globe. Japan, Brazil and South Africa are just a handful of nations hosting enthused callers.

"I'm sad because I missed a lot of calls from Sweden and France lately," Johnson says. "I always want to make sure I answer the international calls."

The magnitude of the experiment has definitely taken a toll on the jovial, so-called social scientist. After his viral video was submitted to the popular news Web site Digg.com, the 26-year-old averaged two to four hours of sleep per night during the first week of calls, while juggling a fulltime cubicle job and spending time with his patient wife, Anna.

"I've run a marathon, but I was more exhausted after that first week [of this experiment]," he says. "It wasn't just physical, but emotional too."

The experiment has created a stir of emotions for observers as well, ranging from adoration to loathing to bafflement. "The weirdest calls were from two older men who asked if I'm ticklish," Johnson says, laughing.

Alexes Martinez, a psychology and justice studies freshman, and member of the Facebook.com "Luke Johnson Phone Experiment" fan club, says, "It was cool to go from watching his video one moment to talking to him on the phone the next."

However, some observers are skeptical and question the veracity of the experiment.

"It's guaranteed viral marketing for his cell phone provider," writes one jaded poster on Digg.com.

Johnson smirks at such accusations. "It'd be nice to make money, but then it wouldn't be a real experiment," he says. "Then it's advertising, and that's not what I was trying to do in the first place."

Such enigmatic YouTube videos seem to attract the dangers of Internet vigilantism. "Lonelygirl15," a supposed 16-year-old video blogger named Bree, captivated thousands of people with the day-to-day experiences of her home-schooled, adolescent life. But suspicion rose when a viewer noticed that the fan Web site created for Bree was registered before she had uploaded her first video. The investigation took off from there, and revealed that Bree is a fictional character played by an actress - her videos were choreographed by filmmakers.

Hackers and curious observers acting as detectives have also uncovered information about Johnson. People have verbally harassed him and organized virtual attacks.

"I'm getting into the inside world of hackers," Johnson says. "They found my home address and everything else." Johnson was also "phone-bombed," an automated service that repeatedly calls a phone number for hours.

Despite the opposing forces of sleep deprivation and pimply-faced Internet sleuths, Johnson has bigger aspirations - he is looking for funding for a screenplay he recently wrote.

"I did this because I was curious. I'm not hiding that I am a filmmaker looking to raise money for a film," he says. "As you've seen with lonelygirl15, they [the filmmakers] signed with a top talent agency." Johnson says that if the national press knocked on his door, funding "could be an option" as an added incentive.

It's not far from reality, and YouTube is the perfect outlet. Mainstream media behemoths now pay close attention to the online stunts that once earned the kind of 15-minute fame solely confined to the deep, dark corners of forums on gag Web sites like Ebaumworlds.com.

Gary "Numa Numa" Brolsma, who posted the popular Webcam video of himself lip-synching to a Romanian pop song, was given a deal to create a follow-up video - while selling merchandise on the side. Jessica "lonelygirl15" Rose is starring in an independent film.

As for Johnson's big break, "If it can open a door, perfect. If it doesn't, I've had fun doing it."



Reach the reporter at natasha.ryan@asu.edu



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