Exhibitionism
in the Internet

Text

Attention to this site: http://www.eng.uc.edu/~jcervone. It contains "everything you want to know about Jason Cervone". Jason who? He is just a University of Cincinnati student who posted his personal home page in the Web, with information about himself (including resume), his university, and even his car. It sounds boring, but almost 2,000 people had already visited the page. Like Jason, many others have used the Web just to expose themselves.

According Matthew Hawn (1996, p. 131), "personal Web pages are a low-cost technological opportunity to exercise the First Amendment rights". Indeed, there is a little bit of everything in home pages in the Internet, from simple details of the author's personal life to spicy pictures. And the new wave now is not just a mere home page, but a site with a digital camera running 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

How did it Start?

The first site to use a webcam was probably "The Trojan Coffee Pot", and the name has nothing to do with the condoms. It all started in a peculiar way, with some students in the computer lab at the University of Cambridge, England, in 1991. After long and hard hours of working in a research on ATM networks, coffee was the only thing where they turned for help to keep them awake.

However, the only coffee filter machine in the building was located a little far, in the corridor outside the Trojan Room, and they just could not stop the study all the time to check if the pot was brewed. But the students didn't want to live without drinking coffee either and that's how "XCoffee" was born: with the webcam, they could find out if the coffee was ready, without leaving the room and getting distressed from the research.

The Human Show

Since then, the webcams have been used to many other utilities, some of them not so noble, but definitely very lucrative. The best example for that is a site called "Transexualfetish", where the visitor can buy time to observe not just she-male alive performances, but also bizarre scenes from the intimacy of the transsexual Sally. In "Isabellla @ Home", subscribers pay 21 dollars a month to watch explicitly erotic shows with Isabella, chat with her and know a little bit about her experiences. According to available figures, Isabella made more than 2 million dollars in 1998 (Hipertexto, 1999).

And how about spend 20 dollars a year to see a woman combing her hair, sleeping, or even watching television? That doesn't seem very interesting, since all of us do exactly the same things in our every day lives. But in 1996, Jennifer Ringley, an average girl in her 20's, had the idea of installing a camera running in her apartment and now more than 500,000 people from all around the world access the site - and pay - to invade her privacy. She is now a millionaire.

In the site "JenniCam", a kind of real soap-opera, people can also see Jennifer brushing her teeth (episode # 19), cooking (episode #5) and taking a bath or making love with her boyfriend (numerous episodes). Nevertheless, Jennifer does not relate her success to the nude scenes: "People can see beautiful naked women in the Playboy site" ("Vida ao Vivo Show", 1998). It makes sense, even because when Jennifer goes shopping, for example, the only thing people can see in the site is an empty bedroom.

In an interview for Time magazine, Jennifer admitted that her life has some similarities with the movie "The Truman Show", where Jim Carey's character has his life monitored by cameras all over him: "The parallels are with the audience, the people who watch me are concerned for my welfare and want to know how I'm feeling. Some e-mail me that I look sad and say that I should turn the camera off and be myself" ("Life vs. Art: A Real Truman", 1998).

The Price of Exposure

But being himself has caused some problems to Sean Patrick Williams, a computer programmer in Washington D.C.. Since he installed a webcam in his house, more than a year ago, he has been threatened for some of the 50,000 people who visit his URL everyday. Sean is gay and the camera sometimes catches him and his boyfriend in intimate positions, motivating all the hate attacks and the intimidation.

Despite the problem, the site "Sean Patrick Alive" is a huge success, what made Sean change his mind about not charging for the access to his privacy, once free: now the visitor is asked to assist in the cost of the website, calculated in 2,000 dollars a month.

A problem was also what Elizabeth Ann Oliver, from Florida, got when she became the first woman to deliver a baby in a widely viewed web event, in the site "America's Health Network". The unprecedent live birth on the internet called not just the attention of physicians or inquisitive people, but also of police officers: they found Liz Oliver and arrested her in the hospital for giving bad checks. On his turn, the psychologist and philosopher Timothy Leary, who passed away in 1996, wanted to broadcast his last moments by the Internet, but the idea was abandoned. His death was videotaped though, but the footage never came to public.

Money Talks

Another typical case of exhibitionism happened a few months ago: a couple - Diane and Mike, both supposedly 18 year-old virgins - announced that they would have their first sexual intercourse and the scenes would be transmitted alive by a webcam over the site "Our First Time".

After a huge repercussion worldwide and with the site's counter access already in seven digits, the couple attended a press conference to disclose the fraud: Diane and Mike are, in fact, Michelle Parma and Ty Taylor, actors looking for fame. Anyway, the event proved that people are indeed interested in "electronic spying", as mentioned by John McCrone (1995, p. 36). Author of the idea, the producer Ken Tipton still maintains in the URL a porno-site and certainly was the one who most took advantage of all publicity.

Nevertheless, money isn't everything in this business, at least to Moe Joe Rider, owner of the popular site "Peeping Moe". "Exhibitionism is the strongest force in motivating many of the guyscam and girlscam. They just want to add some thrill in their lives", says Moe (Tales of the Web). He adds that the live cameras are just a hobby for most of the "cewebrities", a kind of after-work activity. Nevertheless, that does not impede some exhibitionists to install webcams in their work place, like professor Don Descy did in his office, at Minnesota State University.

Specialists, however, don't consider the fast fame obtained by these "cewebrities" necessarily a good thing. "Some seem to be losing the sense that their real world self is more important", says the psychologist and writer Sherry Turkle ("Session with the Cybershrink", 1996). Another psychologist, Sueli Damergian, is concerned with the effects on the web users and the idea of having control over other people. So, on the Internet goes the saying that anybody can be anywhere, but they rarely are "here", inside themselves.

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