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From the December 9, 1999 Edition

I'll Show You Mine

A growing number of net citizens are opening windows into their world

By Bingo Barnes (lasvegasweekly@lasvegasweekly.com)

www.landofvenus.com

Each day, every individual in an urban environment is on camera. From security cameras in casinos and stores, to traffic intersection cameras and the 'eye in the sky', unbeknownst to us, someone is watching. Civil rights activists cry foul, but more than a few citizens have embraced being watched and taken steps to put their lives online for everyone to see.

Webcams aren't new. They have been around for as long as the Internet. But until the popularity of the World Wide Web reached critical mass in the mid-'90s, most webcams were reserved for geeks in university computer labs. One such camera, reputedly the first webcam, was set up in 1991 to watch a coffee pot at Cambridge University so that researchers could check to see how full it was before venturing down for a cup of java. Today, it's still active, and is perhaps the most famous coffee pot online, if not in the world. It wasn't long before someone got the bright idea of putting a camera above their computer so people could watch them work. The next logical step was one at home. Then along came Jennicam.

While definitely not the first to put live images of herself on the Web, Jennifer Ringley (www.jennicam.org) was perhaps the web's first big star. Started as a class project, and despite her modest behavior in the beginning, her popularity grew exponentially. Nobody had done anything like it before. Here was an opportunity to spy on a coed's life. Eventually, though, her popularity got her kicked off the university's computer system. But she continued with her own site and servers, eventually charging members for a faster camera refresh rate to pay for the operation. At one time, she was getting over a million hits per day. Jennicam, more than any other site, influenced a whole generation of webcams.

Today, a growing number of people are following her lead. As of this time last year, Connectix, a manufacturer of net cameras, had sold more than 600,000 Quickcams and estimated that 25 percent of all home computers will have a video camera by 2001.

Getting started with a webcam site can be a rather easy endeavor. For about $100 just about anyone with a computer and an Internet connection can broadcast images of themselves via various video shareware programs and through ICQ, a communication software application for the 'Net. From there people can upgrade by setting up their own websites, improving their video streaming software, and, if they get popular enough, begining to charge for membership with access to extra goodies like image archives or faster video refresh. The popular ones, however, usually get that way because of the amount of flesh the host is willing to show.

At one end of the webcam world, www.landofvenus.com showcases Venus, a Las Vegas woman who installed cameras in most rooms of her home. While her husband maintains the multiple servers, T-1 lines and technical aspects, she is the star. And even though she performs nude "shows" at regularly scheduled times, guests and members alike can usually check in on her while she's doing mundane things like working out, eating her lowfat bodybuilder diet, or sleeping. The site also has adult offerings like X-rated streaming video, and the 24/7 cameras and her popular online journal make this site a hybrid in the webcam universe. And, as one of the most popular adult webcam sites, it brings in a six figure income. But that's the exception, not the norm.

THE EXHIBITIONISTS
www.elon.org

There's a wide range of people setting up webcams, and trying to categorize them is simply impossible. Each individual uses the cameras for a different purpose. By and large, the camera is the medium, not the message. Some buy them to video conference with distant relatives. Others use them to offer those they chat with an opportunity to see what they look like. Still others use it as a safe form of online sexual gratification through good old exhibitionism and voyeurism. But a growing number are setting them up, leaving them on, and co-existing with their new video friend.

In some strange video-journal, window-into-my-world way, these people want to make their lives public. Web pages are even being set up to index the myriad sites available. Earthcam.com lists almost 800 active people & society cams with more than 600 PG-rated personal cams. This figure, as anyone who is semi-fluent in searching out obscure things on the Web knows, is only a hint of what is available.

In an unscientific survey conducted through e-mail by the Las Vegas Weekly, the typical free, non-pornographic webcam site is usually a little over one year old. Most people have set it up for fun--to allow friends and family to see them--but eventually sites evolve, their masters embracing new online friends (fans). On average, those folks spend five hours an evening actively chatting online with their viewers, and most leave the cameras on 24/7. Friends and family usually find it odd that their loved ones have put up a site, although most grow to accept it and, in some cases, are inspired to put up their own. In addition to broadcasting video of themselves, a large number of camguys and camgirls keep their daily diary online as well, so we can not only see them sit there and look bored, but read about it as well.

Typically, webcam hosts do not consider themselves exhibitionists, as the majority of them do not appear nude or partially clothed online. Of course, since they're in their own homes there have been a few instances where they've forgotten the camera was on, or, after a night of heavy drinking, have gotten a little crazy and flashed some flesh. But by and large the term exhibitionist is reserved for those who show nudity on purpose.

When asked what they like the most about being online with the world watching, Elan Freydenson (www.elan.org) summed it up best:

"Imagine yourself in the center, with circles of friends or acquaintances extending outward in decreasing order of direct involvement in your life. The friends outside some point of the closer circles gain much from a site by learning about what's going on without feeling the need to communicate directly. I like the fact that people can communicate with me without me necessarily having to be online or there. My thoughts exist beyond inside my head because they are expressed on a more permanent basis than in a conversation. I can reach many with a single effort."

On the other end of the spectrum, there are those who use their webcam sites as a social resumé, a way of attracting potential friends and acquaintances. In a pre-Copernican way they feel the universe should revolve around them, and in an effort to become more popular and gain more friends, many hosts do it for the incredible ego boost. Flattery is addictive.

When asked what webcam operators dislike about the Web, a large number, like Alicia S., said, "The freaks. Unfortunately they outweigh [sic] the interesting people 100 to one."

While this problem effects some male-hosted sites, the female-run sites suffer the most from the testosterone-filled information highway.

THE VOYEURS
The shutdown alicam www.jungle.net/mercy

Using their websites to fish for other like minds across the Web sea is a common theme. Many sites have had returning visitors that hosts now either classify as friends or fans. Most engage in chat or e-mail with them, and a few actual take the bold step of meeting some IRL (in real life).

When putting yourself online and opening your private life to strangers, sometimes the strangers get strange. Several respondents to the survey mentioned fans that got a little too abusive, overly interested or downright weird with their chat or e-mail. Interestingly enough, problems arise when the watchers believe the camgirl or camguy is not behaving in a way that they want them to behave. For instance, when they change their daily habits, are away from the camera for too long, or fail to respond to their e-mails in a timely fashion.

AliCam (www.jungle.net/mercy) was broadcasting online for six months before she took down her site. Her reason? While e-mails saying she was beautiful boosted her poor self-image, the harassment, e-mail bombs, rampant inclusion on e-mail mailing lists, threats, and her site being hacked, weighed too heavily on her. She just couldn't put up with the bullshit. One fan went so far as to find her house and e-mail pictures of it to her. Now she has a restraining order out on that person. She still operates a private cam for 20 of her steady fans, but she considers them friends because "they're very nice cool people." Today, just a shell of the public site remains.

Privacy Issues
www.jennicam.org

While some camsites are on around the clock, a great many people still behave with some sort of decency in front of the camera, always remembering the camera is there. Jennicam's Ringley was quite modest in the beginning--before she relaxed enough to have intimate moments with her boyfriend in front of the camera. In fact, her public statement on having the camera record her private life for everyone to see includes the less glamorous aspect of watching an average-looking woman. Earlier this year in an USA Today interview she said, "On TV, you see all these people with perfect hair and perfect friends, and people start to feel really inadequate. I walk around all the time with bad hair or stuff in my teeth. And I really think it makes people feel better to know they're not the only ones not leading glamorous lives."

While some make a conscious effort to try to forget about the camera's presence, it's impossible to forget you're being watched. Freydenson says that while he has become less concerned with his appearance, weird ticks, or hand movements, he plays on the fact that his hands often find their way near his nose, but not into it. He always catches himself before the mining expedition takes place. It has now become a game for his fans to try to screencapture images of him picking his nose. Some have gotten close, but so far, no gold.
Ellie members.home.net/motaboy

Ellie (members.home.net/motaboy) says, "If my husband has just finished working out, he won't come on cam until he's had a shower, so I guess it has affected our modesty a little."

Still others say that being online has improved their posture or bodily habits. "You know, closing my mouth so I don't look like an idiot," says Bill Rehm (www.advcellular.com/billsapartment).

Group Effort

While the majority of webcam sites focus on an individual or a couple in an apartment or house, there's a growing number of "Real World" knockoffs. Some of these group houses--some for profit, some not--are voyeuristic in nature like www.voyeurdorm.com, where a group of young females lives in a house with cameras in every room including the bathroom and nightscopes in the bedroom. But a growing number of them are attempting to mirror the success of MTV's reality-based show. "Real World," an MTV show that tapes the real-life soap opera drama of young adults living together in a house, has been recast on the Internet. Sites such as hereandnow.net, and Real World Irvine (members.home.net/livecam) chronicle the lives of a group of people, usually young adults, living in a house, apartment or on the road akin to MTV's "Road Rules." Sure nudity happens sometimes, but the philosophical focus is on viewing the real living aspect of the people involved.
www.voyeurdorm.com

While similar to individual webcams, the group sites have more people to potentially be in front of the camera. This increases the viewer's chance of catching a live person doing something exciting--such as clipping their toenails.

Ultimately, though, if you leave out the video-online-chat aspect, most webcams--regardless of their creators' intent--are about watching someone clip their toenails. As today's society has become more and more voyeristic, we are content to watch anything raw and unstaged, perhaps hoping the online subject's life will appear more pathetic than our own. But, as long as there are people willing to log on to webcam sites, there will be people willing to reveal their private habits, personal secrets and even bits of flesh on the Internet.

Ana Voog
Artist-Musician-Songwriter-Web Star
New things in: What's new, analog, and anapix! I am working on a new menu for ana2.com


In our searches for webcams we learned about Ana Voog. Ana's site is a great example of what webcams can be. With art, viewer participation and lots of goodies, her free site (anacam.com) is only beat by her membership site (ana2.com). The following is a transcript of an e-mail interview with her.

>>What brought you to the Web?

i discovered the web in 1997 when a man i was dating at the time was hooked up to the net and showed me the ropes, so to speak :) i was completely sucked into it in a matter of days. i just couldn't believe the amount of information at my fingertips. i became an immediate "infoholic"

>>When did you decide to put your life online?

i decided in the summer of 1997. i came upon jennicam and was immediately struck with the idea that i could really do a lot with that medium. my brain went off conjuring up a million wonderful things to do, each with endless possibilities!

>>Why did you?

 
 

because with a cam i able to spontaneously communicate with a world-wide "audience" from the comfort of my living room in my pajamas without having to deal with a middleman of any kind. i wanted to get my art out there uncensored and still fresh.

>>Was the decision difficult?

no! why would it be?

>>Do you do it for fun or for business?

why do people always ask that question as if the two of those things could never be the same thing? :) my play is my work and my work is my play! i am very fortunate that i am able to do this :)

>> What reaction did you get from your friends & family?

friends think it's funny. my parents hate it.

>>What do you like about being online?

i like that i'm able to communicate worldwide from the comfort of my own home without censorship of any kind. i like the vast amounts of information at my fingertips. i like the quirky unpredictability the web has. i love how fast things move and change. i love watching cultures meet and merge. i love seeing that on the web we can discard race, colour, country, time zone, body shape, gender and all become text based life forms who need to use "emoticons" to smile :)

 
Going to an interview, I'll turn it back on

i love how it pushes me to become a better communicator. how it pushes my own limits and boundries about communication and "how things work" from a social standpoint. but basically i just love that i can sit in my pajamas and look up obscure japanese deconstructivists at 4am and e-mail them secret messages :)

>>What do you dislike?

i dislike the fact that people are more apt to be rude and mean in cyberspace because they do not view it or "you" as "real". many , for some reason, just cannot be polite or fathom WHY using a polite approach would give them better results. people can "hide" behind their nickname on the web morphing into one "character" to another playing mind games with people just to see what will happen, i guess. i love becoming new things, but not to play mind games or to be impolite.

>>Do you consider yourself an exhibitionist?

no, i do not because i don't get turned on by the thought of others watching me.

>>How many hours a day are you in front of the camera?

my cameras are in 24/7. i am on the cameras a lot because my work/play is at home. each day would vary depending on what i'm up to. but i'd say a good 20 hours out of 24 are on cam.

>>Do you have interaction with other webartists or webcam sites?

 
Universal Bathtime

yes, i do. isabella from isabellacam.com and i have done some improvised cam things together :) also, i flew out and met jennifer from jennicam for the second time last month for her party she humorously calls "jennicon" and now in my chat room, so many people have cams, we'll turn everyone's on all at one time and have a big show and tell. :) and i have started a thing at www.sleepstation.com which is a place where people from all over the world log their cam in while they are sleeping! so it's just a big page of people sleeping from russia to new zealand to new york! it'd be pretty hard to start a cold war now :) and herenadnow.net and i have met and we are cooking up a whole bunch of cyberwonder craziness!

>>How long have you been broadcasting online now?

since august 22nd, 1997

>>The horror of one's life being a story or art was portrayed in The Truman Show. Did you see it & how did if effect your attitude toward what you do?

i saw it. it has nothing to do with me. truman didn't know he was on cam and he was a victim. i run my site, i'm in charge. i decide what the cams are pointed at.

>>Are you ever naked in front of the camera?

yep, that's part of life!

>>If you are do you have shows? or do you have exhibitionist elements to being in front of the camera?

 
Write haiku about aluminum foil

i have done show-like things of a sexual and sensual nature here and there when the mood strikes me. i don't ever plan it or anything. i just do it if i feel like it. i don't rule anything out. i love to get all dressed up in some wicked pumps and prance about sometimes. i'm a girl damnit! :) but that doesn't happen very often. it's not a very big part of "what i do" . when i play around with my cams, it is more in a fine art photographic sense...i love to take pictures of things that inspire me in my environment at that time...the way the sunlight might be hitting the dishes in the dishwasher...the way my dog is sleeping upside down, a bowl of fruit, a stack of cds, and myself! i photograph myself a lot since i'm the only one in the house who likes being photographed :) plus i'm a double aries with leo rising. u figure that out :)

>>How has having a camera affected your modesty? Or has it?

i think my modesty is the same as it's always been...whatever that is :) i don't have a modesty ruler handy :) if you are implying that the cam could make u "get a big head," then i disagree with that a lot. because video is NOT a friendly medium to look healthy in, and if u are gonna be on cam 24/7 and u don't have an entourage of fabulous make up artists around u, things aren't gonna be glamourous that often!

>>Do you have intimate moments with your significant other on or off camera?

i have in the past. i don't now because my boyfriend is shy about that. but perhaps in the future i can coax him into it :) just because i would love to photograph the two of us together doing loving things together, especially snuggling and kissing...because there are very very few pictures of genuine affection, snuggling or kissing on the net. go try to find it! you'll be amazed at how hard it is to find! a tragedy!

>>If your webcam is a business, what range of money do you make?
Bill Rehm www.advcellular.com/bilsapartment

if you'd like to submit to me all your personal financial statistics...then maybe we'll talk. :)

>>If you have subscribers what stereotype is your avergage subscriber?

i don't believe in trying to stereotype anyone. but if i had to say one word about my subscribers i'd say "kind" :) they are a very kind lot :)

>>Do you have fans that have been with you from the beginning?

yes, i do. quite a few, in fact :)

>>Have you developed friendships with any fans?

yep! many!

>>Have you ever met fans in person?

yes, i have! it was a very cool thing :)

>>Have you ever had problems with your fans?

here and there but nothing major. just annoying. just like with anything.

>>Have you had any stalkers?

nope. but i did have 2 stalkers before my cam started, both were ex-boyfriends.

>>Have you had an invasion of your privacy, or have any viewers scared you or made you uncomfortable?
Tony http//members.homenet/livecam

i don't feel at all invaded since it's all under my control. if anything, i feel comforted knowing there are many people watching kindly over me like angels :) people have written things that made me feel uncomfortable, but the same happens for me when i walk down the street. thankfully, 99% of my email is extremely positive and invigorating :)

i don't think "living online" is accurate. i live in my house and people have access to a PICTURE of my life, not my life itself. i'd like to make that distinction. and the reasons people do it ( which are only a handful of 24/7 ) are as vast the reasons as there are people. it would be nice if the media would stop trying 2 stereotype all webcams. just as people do not put trash romance novels in the same section as james joyce, y'know?

also another thing i'd like to say is, i don't think my website is about me at all. i think it is more like a giant ink blot test. people project their own psyches onto my cam and they will see whatever they want to see or have been trained to see. for example, a picture of me sitting on my couch watching tv. some people may write to me and tell me how alone i look and how they wish i went out more. then another wil write about how peaceful i look and how much they wish they had time to just sit back and relax. the list goes on and on. but what u see at my site and your reactions to it say everything about YOU. anacam is just a mirror.

 

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Last Updated: Monday, 21-Feb-00 18:55:54
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