Internet: The site that is bringing home entertainment to millions

A young American woman has a small video camera trained on her bedroom 24 hours a day. The camera, connected to a computer, relays continually updated colour photographs from her Washington flat into her Internet website, where 100 million visitors around

It is Candid Camera but with an important difference. Jennifer Ringley, 21, knows strangers are watching her. She welcomes - encourages - the peeping toms. Yet she continues to behave as if they were not there.

Click onto the JenniCAM website, at http://www.jennicam.org, and what you will see is a "gallery", featuring a dozen still images of Jenni engaged in a variety of mundane domestic activities. She might be on the telephone, sitting down watching television, brushing her hair, chewing her thumb, doing stomach exercises, or just fast asleep in bed - for she kindly leaves a light on in her room at night for her fans' viewing pleasure.

And, yes, she does dress and undress. The way people do in their bedrooms. Not with any visible intention of prurient display. No saucy winks to the camera. But you will inevitably catch the occasional glimpse of breast. She may sometimes bend over with her back to the camera to pick up a sock and, because all she happens to be wearing is a T-shirt, bare a shot of her behind.

The sexless solitude of the compulsive websurfer must account in part for the 100 million "hits" her website attracts each week. But there has to be more to the phenomenon than that. If sex is all you crave, there is much richer fare out there - live, if you wish, and heavily interactive.

Jenni receives mountains of lewd e-mail, but she only replies to the nice ones. Like those from Josh Willner, from Florida, who has created a temple to his heroine at a Net site he calls Planet Jennifer. Under the title "A Tribute to a Web Goddess", he gathers his own "personal favourite pictures of Jenni", but warns that "if you are looking for an archive of nudes, please go elsewhere".

Jenni herself, a professional web page designer who keeps her address secret and her telephone number unlisted, does communicate with all her visitors, but in a deliberately static, sterile format. She has a section on her website of Frequently Asked Questions, each of which she answers as if she were responding to a television interviewer.

"Do you ever stage what we see? No. The concept of the cam is to show whatever is going on naturally ... So whatever you're seeing isn't staged or faked ... there's something compelling about real life that staging it wouldn't bring to the medium.

"You're naked sometimes, is this pornography? This site is not pornographic. Yes, it contains nudity from time to time. Real life contains nudity."

Joey Anuff, an expert on Net culture, observed that "the exercises in first-person deviancy found on so many homepages converge almost perfectly with the trend towards reality-based programming on television". One major influence has been MTV's Real World series, fly-on-the-wall documentaries chronicling the banal everyday intimacies of not particularly interesting young men and women.

Jenni, Mr Arnuff said, is not the only one out there who has acted on the discovery that all the cyberworld's a stage. Plenty of college students are doing the same thing, some selling videotapes of themselves on America Online (AOL).

"The core motive is extremely simple: attention. Broadcasting your most candid moments is the fastest way to get an e-mail inbox full of curiosity."

Jenni seeks, in the broadest sense of the word, love. A love beyond narcissism, for how sweet - if ultimately ethereal - must be the satisfaction of knowing that millions of people find you interesting just the way you are.

As for those who watch, Josh Willner's sense of intimate knowledge with a goddess he has seen in photographs but never met, might seem eerie; it might seem fanatical. But everybody carries within something of the fantasist and the voyeur, and it is to such impulses that Jenni caters, as Princess Diana did before her.

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