Why the first Lifecaster disappeared from the internet
As an experiment, the student rigged her webcam to broadcast a snapshot every 15 minutes of what she was doing right now: surfing the Internet, staring into space, reading a book, masturbating. The extreme transparency – and the possibility of mixed nudity – was eminently clickable. She broadcast her everyday life for anyone who wanted to click, launching an internet-based DIY streaming concept that still has voyeuristic legs today.
Two years later, in 1998, Ringley was famous enough to appear in David Letterman, entering the stage after Samuel L. Jackson. Ringley was the star of a new screen: as Jennicam, she was the first celebrity life host and cam girl. She switched to uploading images more frequently and billing people (via PayPal) for premium access.
Then she unplugged. Jennicam died in 2003, following the disintegration of a contentious relationship, all captured on her webcam. Jenni has returned to private life and has no social media or anything of (ugh) “personal brand”. At the time, she cited PayPal’s anti-nudity policy.
But the real reason had less to do with PayPal than with burnout: After years in public life, she wanted her life back as a private person, especially after being criticized for an on-screen affair.
Ringley spoke to Alex Goldman and PJ Vogt of Reply to all Podcast a few months ago about its pioneering digital presence in the 90s, which received up to 7 million hits per day. “I had to develop very thick skin, both for the good and the bad,” she explained, pointing out how the relentless and increasingly successful experience could be as difficult as his fame grew.
Now, it’s not weird to turn on Ellen or Jimmy Kimmel and see an internet celebrity as a guest – never forget that the world’s first delinquent swag demon, Justin Bieber, debuted on Youtube. But when Jennicam went mainstream, it was an almost radically new idea, an experience of living in the open air. There were a few different webcams that came before it, including the Coffee Pot Cam , but Jennicam was the first to introduce a real person, so she was the first to experience the ups and downs of life in a camera rigged fishbowl.
“To me, it’s like the perfect idea for the internet,” Letterman told Ringley in their interview, just after telling him he didn’t really care. Letterman was not wrong. Streaming services like Meercat, Periscope, and YouNow are gaining traction. Mobile devices mean cam girls and boys aren’t confined to their dorms. Even though she now shuns the internet-based lifestyle she helped pioneer, people haven’t lost interest in Ringley’s idea of living her life online.