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Previously in Web Citations:

The Law and Spirit of the Letter

The digital age may (or may not) spell the death of print, but it has breathed new life into the art of type.

Be-In Digital

In some quarters, the spirit of Haight-Ashbury is still kicking. Should we care?

Guiding Light

Outside the Islamic world, the Net can serve as eyes and ears to the faithful.

What Side Are You On?

Order and chaos, right and wrong, good and evil. True believers know what the U.S. v. Microsoft case is really about.

Head for the Hills

Are you prepared for Y2K and impending global chaos? Find help on the Web (while you still can).

Unified Mouse Theory

Welcome to the wonderful world of Disney.

Beta-testing the Bible

Not just another digital-age prophecy.

Break on Through

Portal, n. 1. A door, gate, or entrance; esp: a grand or imposing one.

For more, see the complete Web Citations Index.
Something for Everyone
February 3, 1999

This past week people all over the world were able to watch live (albeit halting) Webcasts of two major news events: the Pope's visit to St. Louis and the impeachment hearings in the Senate. Meanwhile, many more people were logging onto lower-profile Web sites that offer live video -- sites on which the content is amazing, trivial, inexplicable, pornographic, or some combination of the above. Two conspicuous trends (aside from pornography) emerge from a quick and necessarily unscientific survey of such sites, which include everything from a live Chapel Cam (courtesy of the monastic order of the Monks of Adoration) to streaming video of a frequently jammed bridge over to Cape Cod.

online operation
Still photo from a rhinoplasty
broadcast at Online Surgery
1: Live From the O.R.! Perhaps spawned by the popularity of television's E.R., the broadcast of surgery online has gained a loyal following. Live operations happen about twice a month on Online Surgery, where broadcasts have included a tummy tuck, liposuction, and a nose job (a breast implantation is being shown on February 3). These cosmetic procedures may not be as exciting as the action on E.R., but there is one perk: the site offers free surgery to patients willing to have it broadcast on the Internet. America's Health Network also hosts a virtual operating room: viewers have logged on to watch a hair transplant, open-heart surgery, and an Internet birth. (Lest you think the patient remains anonymous, the woman whose delivery was recently aired was arrested shortly thereafter, having been recognized by the police as a wanted felon.)

2: Live From the Animal Kingdom! The live-action Web market offers the opportunity to do animal -- along with people -- watching. The Humane Society of Miami always has a video camera on one of the (invariably adorable) dogs it hopes will be adopted, with a sign in the background that says, "Take Me Home!" The tactic seems to work. About twice a day you'll encounter a new dog and will learn, for instance, that "April has gone home." Most animal
Seen through AfriCam, a live-
action camera located at a South
African animal reserve.
cams don't serve such a practical purpose, however. Take Guinea Pig Television, a site visited by more than two thousand people a day that broadcasts the daily life (such as it is) of several guinea pigs. The site's host, Jay Andrews, says that he originally set up the site so that he could monitor his ailing pet. Once his guinea pig recovered he removed the site, but there was such an outcry that he reinstated it. (For those who find themselves wanting to learn more about guinea pigs, the site is part of a "guinea pig Web ring.") The animals to be seen at AfriCam, where you "visit" waterholes in three animal reserves in South Africa, are more exotic, but less reliable than the dogs and guinea pigs, since they rarely seem to pass in front of the cameras.

What does all this mean? Not much -- and that's the point. Events like the Pope's visit and the impeachment trial can be likened to TV network blockbusters, while the rest of the live Web scene resembles nothing so much as the programming on a gigantic community-access cable station -- with all the pointless yet somehow fascinating entertainments that that would entail. If the Web demonstrates the truth of the maxim that there's something for everyone, it also proves that there's someone for everything.

--Katie Bacon

Join the conversation in the Technology & Digital Culture conference of Post & Riposte.

More on Technology and Digital Culture in Atlantic Unbound and The Atlantic Monthly.

Katie Bacon is the senior editor of Atlantic Unbound.

Copyright © 1999 by The Atlantic Monthly Company. All rights reserved.
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