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Jenni, Jenni, Jenni: A Life Laid Bare on the Computer Screen

THE WASHINGTON POST

Jenni is the first word of this story and the last. Because this is all about Jenni--her elbows, her bed, her friends, her poetry, her likes, her looks, her life.

Jenni, whose full name is Jennifer Ringley, is 21 and lives and works in an 800-square-foot apartment in northwest Washington. She lets the whole world watch pretty much her every move. She’s devised a Web site, called JenniCAM (https://www.jennicam.org), that’s so straightforward it’s warped, so simple it’s complex, so humbling it’s audacious, so plain it’s creative, so worldly it’s innocent.

Jenni has positioned a small Connectix QuickCam camera atop the Mac in her bedroom. Every minute, the shutter snaps.

Jenni will let you watch. If you send her $15 a year, you can see a new picture every three minutes. If you want to check in for free, new pictures are posted on her Web site every half-hour:

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Jenni biting her thumb. Contemplative Jenni brushing her long, strawberry blond hair. Annoyed Jenni removing motes from her green eyes. Grimacing Jenni pulling on a T-shirt. Naked jaybird Jenni making her queen-size bed. Romantic Jenni kissing her significant other, Geofry Glenn. Web page designer Jenni doing work for companies such as National Geographic. Web star Jenni answering e-mail that fans of Jenni have sent to Jenni and her nonprofit organization JenniCAM.

Jenni, you see, is living the youthful narcissist’s dream on a grand scale. She’s the ultimate exhibitionist performing for the ultimate voyeur--the eyes of the world. She’s cruising on the “information super my-way.” The unexamined life, Socrates said, is not worth living. Not Jenni’s problem.

Jenni has watchers. About 5,500 folks send her the annual fee. She says her site receives more than 100 million hits a week. Sometimes there’s so much traffic the site is hard to reach.

One of her most ardent fans, Josh Willner, 35, is a Florida warehouse worker. When he gets home in the morning, after working the graveyard shift, his computer is flashing fresh photos of Jenni.

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Jenni is not the only person to have a fixed-camera site, Willner explains. More and more places, such as Florida bars and California beaches, offer people-watching reports. More and more sites are populated with professional models who tease and please their constituents. But Willner says Jenni was the first to put a camera in her room and is still the most authentic.

Jenni’s site, he says, “is real.” And that apparently is its greatest allure. “It shows whatever she’s doing at the time in her room. Uncensored.”

Jenni, in fact, does censor her site. If a visitor feels uncomfortable with the camera on, she turns it off. The bathroom is offstage. So, for now, is the dining room / living room. After she returns from a five-week European vacation, she plans to add another camera in the room where she watches TV.

When she and Geofry want to be alone, she aims the bedroom camera in another direction.

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Jenni met Geofry, who’s 28, through one of her watchers. Geofry’s still getting used to things, to being a guest star on a never-ending episode of “Candid Camera.” He says that viewers today will probably not see Jenni and him in flagrante.

“They still see a lot of nudity,” he says. “They might see some smooching and stuff.” He says that a few times the camera has caught them in compromising positions. He regrets a couple of embarrassing pictures that are floating around the Internet.

Jenni’s pictures can be found all over the place. Englishman Justin Fletcher, for instance, keeps a three-day cache of JenniPics (https://users.essex.ac.uk/users/gerph/jennipics/index.html).

Other folks have also collected pictures at an exhibition.

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Jenni is basking in her celebrity. Recently she appeared on “CyberLove” (https://www.thesync.com/videos/cyberlove.html), a live, newborn video show that’s produced every two weeks in Silver Spring, Md., and airs over the Internet.

“I love my fans,” she tells the show’s panel. “I love for people to watch.”

Jenni says that what she does is not pornography. She is, she explains, living a private life for all to see.

Jenni says she gets a deluge of lewd, rude and crude e-mail. But she also hears from a few people who have been cheered up by her Web presence. “In my small way, I’m reaching out,” she says.

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Jenni admits that the camera in her room makes her look much slimmer than she really is. Under the glaring heat of the “CyberLove” lights, she shifts uncomfortably, adjusting her red crushed-velvet top and black jeans. She uses a black chip-clip to hold back her hair. She giggles a lot.

Jenni says she installed the camera in her dormitory room at Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pa., about a year and a half ago. After graduation, she moved to Washington and continued to cam it up.

In the beginning, she occasionally did strip shows for the camera, but stopped. She made love on camera. More and more folks became followers.

“People who are watching the JenniCAM are not perverts,” she says, adding that some women have criticized her for prostituting her body and her life. Others have praised her for captivating a male-dominated medium.

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Jenni’s mother, Jeanie Ringley, says from her home in Harrisburg, Pa., that she doesn’t understand all the hoopla over her daughter.

“I’m not going to hate my daughter because of this camera. She’s no different than any other person out there exploring her world, her sexuality,” Ringley says.

“There’s nothing you can do to stop her. She’s 21,” she says, but she does have concerns about Jenni’s safety.

Jenni has taken steps to protect herself. Her phone number is unlisted. She doesn’t tell people exactly where she lives. Awhile back, someone posted a threatening message on the Internet, and computer whizzes peppered her site with grotesque photos. A friend now uses Internet security software to protect the JenniCAM site from hackers.

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Jenni admits, “There are days when it’s not thrilling for me.”

But she has grown accustomed to facing the camera. She usually sleeps from 6:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., then she works on her page designs, responds to e-mail, pays the bills--all in front of the lens. She hardly ever pays attention to the camera, or to the world beyond it. To Jenni, you see, everything is about Jenni.


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