In 1996 Jennifer Ringley started Jennicam.org, where she recorded and broadcast her entire life, 24/7. It made her famous. And then, one day, she disappeared from the internet entirely. What'd she figure out about the perils of living publicly before the rest of us did? Alex Goldman tracks her down.
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This is an unofficial transcript meant for reference. Accuracy is not guaranteed.
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To ninety six nineteen year old,
Jennifer Ring they started a website called Jenny. Can the site
just a stream of still images from a webcam inner dorm room. Every fifteen minutes a new black and white photos upload.
Jenny, it or computer studying Jenny coming back from it
with a snack Jenny, asleep under a comforter Jenny on the phone twenty four hours a day, seven days a week
today the seems utterly mundane and pointless, but back in nineteen, eighty six, it was revolution.
Gas is the creator of the very popular Jenny com website which televised the life in
her apartment twenty four hours a day live on the internet. Please welcome Jenny, cams own
Jenny? This is David Letterman and ninety. Ninety eight, in
for bringing about gene camp and it wasn't just Letterman shoes
featured in newspapers and magazines, Shit cameo on a network drama.
For seven years she was the subject of endless online discussion, debate and analysis and then one day she disappeared. I know this because, for the better part of a year I've been trying to find her
from gimlet. This is reply all show that the outcome
I am not entirely sure why I'm so obsessed with Jenny. Can I
back in the nineties, but I didn't really watch it, but
When we spend almost all of his time online these days journey started,
like someone who might have some special insight. Someone has already gone.
What we're all living through today choose one of the first people to leave her life in public to one of the first pillar.
To become a celebrity simply because she was on camera choose one of.
Most people to share her most intimate invulnerable moments with complete strangers online. So why, after living so public,
did she vanished so completely so first
Let me say thank you for doing this. I really appreciate it miss no reason that you should necessarily bad.
Do I dont even know I picked up the phone. I usually that after me
of dead ends, inactive
Very saying that they had no idea where she was or worse sang. I think I know where she is, but she'll never talk to you when I finally,
Jenny. She wasn't it
officer mean, or even particularly mad, that I'd founder honestly. She was more
curious if her mom had given me her number wider,
think that it was your mom who had given me your phone number she's done that in the past
Yeah they're they're. Still, you know fully listed in the phone book in everything and them I've yeah. I was hoping that she hasn't done that again.
My mom was overwhelming my biggest fan.
The original stalker so yeah. She would call me on Saturday Morning- and you know say I see you're still in bed, meaning to wake up on my mom at six o clock journey, and I ended up talking about three hours during which he told me the whole story and I'll be
and back and ninety ninety six at the time
Jennifer really was a junior dickens in College and Pennsylvania. When she said
upon a new piece of technology or college bookstore, a webcam,
a computer and I've always been a computer and- and I had to have one pretty quickly- really
China have anything to do with it, and I spent a good tracker money at the bookstore
on this camera so
I kind of it was basically a
programming challenge to myself to see if I could set up the script that would take the pictures upload them to this
it is to get that happening automatically, and I shared it with a couple of friendly kind of look. I got this working and I thought it was kind of meat in the beginning,
it was just her in those computer, nerd friends, but
his friend shared with their friends and they share with their friends and at some point the press began
around somebody at a newspaper in Australia heard about it,
and wrote an article about it and I M
pretty immediately things went crazy. I got a call from my eyes p that I owed them several hundred dollars for bandwidth charges and I'd have to move my side, and it was not something I had definitely prepared for,
Looking at Jenny came as an internet user and twenty fourteen kind of hard to see the appeal, but there's something magnetic about watching. It
it was easy to sit there. Instead, the screen anticipating the next picture,
link in the chain that could be assembled into a narrative. Jenny's
bed and via high boots, so she's going out Jenny's an attack,
up and sweat, pants and forever computer. So
staying home and chatting on piracy, J
in a guideline next to one another in bed, so the falsely breeding or they will end up having sex this, of course,
the possibility of witnessing nudity or sex, was also a huge part of the appeal
Maybe it would happen in the next image or the next image or the next, the first time, one boyfriend. I did start kissing
the fight went down pretty much immediately from from from tomb.
Slowed, sell, em and then, of course, you know, I hear the computer B
I look over once he realizes that kissing his overloaded.
He didn't come back into my room again. Nobody who
To be honest, nobody wanted to come into my room even though
the new treaty was like almost incidental just by the fact that people were so excited by
that your kissing on camera, they crashed your website. There was a sexual undertone. I guess I would say to what you were doing and was
it's something you thought about when you set it up, I think I decided,
it would be more of a pain to have
in the camera around when I was gonna get changed that it was going to be more of a pain they have to cover it up when something was going,
happening that if I really wanted to be able to ignore the cameras in as much as I wide to that they had to keep running
I'm at them to my boyfriend. I'm gonna! Stop that! No mark over to the other side of the room, and they know that's not Nada
I didn't want it to be disruptive like back, for me
Is there any part of you that felt that it was empowering or was excited by it like with their prey view that was like this is up?
this I actually enjoy. Where was it just another part of this experiment?.
I'm not gonna lying there were there were certainly a couple of times. You know I wouldn't
on something and check it out like
almost like looking in the mirror dormant. I didn't have a big mirror. Turning the camera cramp around the room,
I'm not going to deny that there is a certain amount of you know, insecurity that goes along with being no nineteen years old sets its natural to be seeking.
All, but I also tried not to listen to hard to their feedback. That was,
had a really good or really bad. So why,
Actually was she doing this? We ve come
expect that when someone does something this extreme, if the result of summing extreme in their personality and what's confuse,
Jenny is that she's confounding normal. She enjoyed the attention sure, but she wasn't desperate for fame. She wasn't uproot exact,
but as exhibitionist go, she was pretty mild. She wasn't in it, for the money generally refused plenty,
opportunities for banner ads or product placement and kind.
Like when she started it. She just
Did you see what would happen next
sort of became a mission. This experiment and radical openness amiss
but every once in a while, she felt really paid off
I was in my dorm room Saturday night doing laundry its. I was
It has emerged
and I got an email from someone who said I'm doing laundry too, and I just looked at my father you're doing laundry on Saturday night funny. Could I
like a loser, I'm sitting home doing laundry on Saturday name, but I follow you are too so now I don't feel so bad and that that kind of
did it for me that that was the turning point where you're like well.
I'm helping someone, because I'm doing laundering they're doing under the same time. I don't care anymore,
like I'm glad to hear of it somehow
I gave somebody permission to be themselves and to be ok with that after college Jenny
to Washington DC and got a job doing web design going from
more room to an apartment. She suddenly had a lot more space to document agenda came supervision.
Or a bunch of webcams. His work was throwing out
and she wired her new home. When I lived
you see there would have been won an office
two in the office, one in the kitchen
in the living room you won in the bedroom
and there was one in the bathroom, but it did not point at the toilet. That was at its peak
her sight got. Seven million hits a day which, back in the late nineties, brought any a lot of attention
There is a Jenny campfire see Channel. There is a website dedicated just a pictures of her feet.
There were articles about her in the Wall Street Journal salon in modern, fair at magazine,
She was a guest on this american life. She made a cameo appearance.
Diagnosis, murder, a detective, show starring, dig Van Dyke and of course she was
interviewed by the arbiter of late. Ninety celebrity David Letterman. This will replace television as we know it.
This will replace salary. Whether this is really all people what they just people are
Only in desperate
lonely, desperate miserable human beings. They what they're the reaching out. They want to see why
somewhere else taking place. It's comforting, don't you think I think
that if you turn on the tv, you can see wild America and you can watch lions and badgers antelope eating and
being in doing what they do, but for some reason wanting to see people doing the same broad, considered, sick and perverse. Well, I dunno about that. Exactly the whole thing was such a blur, but what always stand out to me? Listen, I've working under the state, Samuel L Jackson was coming off
the stage, and I can't believe he even start to acknowledge me, but you
try me, and he said I just checked out your fight, and I thought
the thieves downloading your stereo witnesses
I think I'd
hammering any is my co host p gave out when you just said,
I thought that you are saying that he actually did catch people in the act of stealing things from your house, but he was messing with you know he was making a joke that he'd seen. I guess that was the joke was that they were downloading my stereo, not that they were stealing it, though, that they were on line down instead of those two thousand with people would talk
a world wide web like it was magic. Dishonor, vat, Joker, Samuel Jackson to make in two thousand and eight the internet is pretty
I won't get rich. I think it's either legacy before that. This is the best idea. I've heard for that silly internet thing:
thank you, MRS Reding. Ninety Burma Journey back by two thousand Jenny spawned Imitators Anna CAM Amanda can easy. Can a new term entered the lexicon to describe them
M girl and the beginning of the end, Virginia came came when she got caught up in a cave.
Rural scandal. Jenny
we need to names the people involved, but was the spring of two thousand Jenny adjustments to Sacramento
fellow came girl who is out there help to find a place, and then, a few months later, Jenny slept with his came fiance on care,
I thought we fell in love. I really
at that time, I felt like I had just met my full name.
How could you judge this? You don't know because you're not having these feelings, that's
If story you hear a million times in your lifetime, a friend who hooked up with someone else's boyfriend or girlfriend and there's this sort of tiny drama for you. It didn't only happen on camera, but it happened in front of hundreds of thousands,
people and everyone decided to take sides. I mean, oh you and I don't I don't. I don't blame them said it's it's it's one of those things that, from the outside its it's so obvious, came forms erruptive with
Israel and the outrage wasn't confined to the internet. The Washington Post called her
red, headed little minks and
a moral man trapper, the wash
Canton Post Jenny.
Former fiance moved in together and as you,
probably imagine their new relationship didn't flourish under that kind of scrutiny. I think what really bit the most was, of course, that relationship did start failing which no now, with almost as soon as anybody, could happen
active, but do you think I ended up staying in that relationship for a lot longer than I would have just because I felt Lake
I really really went out of my way to make this happen. Nuts is gonna give up. So I d
I felt there was more of a weight of responsibility on me to try harder just because
and apparently maybe
huge mistake. Suddenly genesis
merriment and radical unvarnished openness became a performance
The performance of relationship she was unhappy in because they give it up would have interest too great to public a failure
and then Jenny did something anathema to recording your life. Twenty four seven. She got a day job. At that point, I was gonna be gone from the house.
Nine hours a day and sleeping another eight hours a day and life started slowing down. For me too, it's just you
get into a routine. I'm I'm not twenty one, I'm not flailing, I'm not
making laughable mistakes every five minutes, like you do, when your younger, I guess it's a little more boring
fewer interest in the site begin away. In later
one and three Jenny announced that you shutting down and on December
first that year, Jenny came when dark. She backed up
images, internal entries to some zip discs and through all of it, the cameras backups.
Everything that had to do with Jenny came into a box but live somewhere in your garage. Now I feel like you, of this,
Nick position of doing this thing before is commonplace, and then you stopped, and
gun very very far in the other direction.
Any real! You saw something bad that lake
all rushed into a nest.
Many warnings back he's
I can recall of the internet
scary cause, I'm I'm, I'm not! I'm not us.
Shelly, wise, that's exactly what an Oracle it say,
they rejected our attempts to make her anything other than what she was a person who
this one thing for very specific reasons, but
say something that I couldn't help it take as a warning from someone who knows about the danger of
in public the way we do now.
She knows of the internet. Will always overreact react whatever. It decides to shine a light on heaving both praise and scorn at levels, much greater than deserved.
I would take it. I did at the irish decline that what why were you exhausted that had to develop a pretty thick skin for for both the good stuff and the bad stuff? There are people
I want to be able to connect with. I don't wanna distract every stranger
on every good or a bad thing to make me feel different there or proud it. It became almost too thick skin
at the time Jenny stashed, her webcams in her garage myspace was six months old. There was no facebook, no twitter, no Instagram, no Youtube another
does exist. Jenny is one of the few people who stays off of them completely. In fact, sheets
was entirely absent from the internet. There are few pig
ever floating around and there's a Wikipedia
about Jenny, CAM, but the hundreds of thousands of images and journal entry. She posted to your site, those are mostly gone and the Genie of twenty fourteen is basically on. Google may have been flagged famous Johnson and
four Johnson, as is practically better, then Jane DOE
I thought I would get married. I never
I will get married, but
I did. I was super eager to take his last name super eager
finally, she does let slip in the real world that used to be Jenny came, and she says that when she does, people mostly don't get it
feel like yeah. So what big deal from like well kind of was
I'm failed. A big deal but big deal deal and there like deal and know. I don't feel like a big deal to me. Jennifer Johnson, nay, really is still a programmer and stolen Sacramento to find out.
About her, you can followers on Twitter, Instagram. In fact,
I know more about her you're, pretty much out of luck, which is exactly the way she wants it,
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Transcript generated on 2020-02-14.