Life in a Webcam House

I lived for 2 years under 24/hour video surveillance in a webcam house…by choice.

It was right after the 1st Internet Tech Bubble burst. I had co-founded a webcam community website called CitizenX. (Like ‘Google Hangouts’ with much more heart and WAY less advanced webcam tech.). It was growing nicely (250K registered users) and had an active, dedicated community.

We were right on track with our goals and metrics. But when the bubble burst, investors changed their tune. “Focus on growth and worry about monetizing later” became, “How can you get revenue TODAY?!”

At a local networking event, CEO Dmitry had met a local businessman who was running a webcam house at TheRealHouse.com (now gone). It had 23 cameras that streamed video and audio 24/7. Every room of the house was viewable, including showers. It worked great from a tech perspective, but was not doing well financially. It seemed logical that a certain percentage of people interested in a webcam community site would also be interested in a webcam voyeur site, right? So CitizenX partnered with TheRealHouse so they both would have a mechanism to make money immediately.

Initially, all I was going to do was manage the house. But before long I had moved in, and brought in adventurous Burning Man folks to live there, too.

We had high ideals and dreams. We had a manifesto.

Each housemate was required to participate in house activities and host their own “show” at least once a week. Not a sex show, but an artsy, entertaining one. Miss M & Kelly did a weekly puppet show and Bobo’s read Bedtime Stories. Ashley did a cooking show dressed in lingerie. I hosted the “Feel The Love” call-in radio show recorded by a remote producer, Nosaj (who I never met in person.) In a time before YouTube, we were exploring the idea of everyone having their own DIY TV Channel.

Remote party participation

This was an era when there were a number of popular webcam houses, mostly focussed on watching attractive young women shower. But what made TheRealHouse so interesting was that it was connected to CitizenX. That connection made it possible for Housemates to see the viewers, just as they could see us. We could throw a theme party in the house and CitizenX members could dress up, turn on their webcam, and digitally attend one of our Burner theme parties from afar. We even had a DJ playing remotely — His image up on webcam and his music streamed from several states away.

Indoor camping party with fireplace & live chatting

This was huge for people who lived in places where flying a freak flag was discouraged, or even dangerous.

We wanted to give people in remote Midwest areas (and anywhere conservative) an intimate peek into the lives of people trying to live artistically. And we wanted to invite them to participate, too.

It was often fun, but living under webcam was a mindtrip, too.

The first thing I did after moving in was try to act on my best behavior at all times. I was conscious of my posture, my word choice, and my actions. I even flossed my teeth.

But after 48 hours of that, I was exhausted. It is simply way too much effort to be acting all the time.

So I was forced to come to terms with myself.

There was no way I could avoid all embarrassing moments. I was going to fart or pick my nose at some point. But I had to be at peace with who I was. If you watched my life for a day, would I be okay with the person you saw?

The hardest things about living on camera were not what I thought they would be. The showering or physical lost their embarrassment quickly. For the most part, I was at peace with how I lived my life. But the thing I was most ashamed of was when I gossipped. I learned very quickly that I did not want to say anything out loud that I would not say to someone’s face. This is a powerful and significant awareness that I am still grateful for.

Maya Angelou said, “Those negative words climb into the woodwork, into the furniture, and the next thing you know, they’re on your skin. A negative statement is poison.”

The webcam house experience was both a huge personal growth experience for me and an exciting exploration of emerging technology. But, eventually, the money ran out. Webcam houses, in general, fell out of favor. There was a time when sharing everything you do, eat and think was considered crazy, exhibitionistic, and newsworthy… now we call that “Facebook.”

I am grateful for the experience. I am a better & more self-aware person for it. And if you ever need tips for keeping the webcam in your shower from fogging up, just let me know. ?

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