Magazine article The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)

Wwwatch Me

Magazine article The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)

Wwwatch Me

Article excerpt

Sean Patrick Williams is being watched. He's really not doing anything special, stationed as he is in front of his home computer in a white undershirt sipping an unidentifiable drink to wash down the porridge he forks out of a plastic bowl.

But wait a few minutes. Any Internet moment now, he might just scratch his nose. Or he might shift in his seat. Or maybe, if the thousands who are staring at him are really lucky, he'll offer a glimpse of his legs as he leaves the room.

It's OK to look; Williams knows you're there. The gay 26-year-old data-systems designer from Washington, D.C., was the one who chose in March to attach a $175 checkbook-shaped digital camera to whatever computer is nearby and offer a 24-hour World Wide Web broadcast of what he calls his "rarely cute, sometimes monotonous, but always fun" daily life.

Unlike the Jim Carrey character in the film The Truman Show, who doesn't know he's in a televised fishbowl, Williams knows and doesn't mind that 70,000 on-line voyeurs around the globe stop in at least once a day to check out "Scan Patrick Live!" (www.seanpatricklive.com). Every 30 seconds the camera snaps a new shot of its environment, be it Williams's sparse living room as he watches TV or his desk at work as he analyzes data for a nonprofit women's reproductive services agency. You also might catch Williams lounging at a Delaware beach house, writing E-mall, or even sleeping in the nude.

This standing invite to peer through the looking lens makes the North Carolina native one of the Web's hottest male stars, gay or straight. (The undisputed winner among women is Jennifer Ringley, who pioneered the genre with JenniCAM, first broadcast in 1996 when Ringley was a 19-year-old college student in Carlisle, Pa Ringley's site is now so popular, she charges viewers $15 a year.)

The cameras and software needed to produce these Web cam sites plummeted in price and complexity last year. Today, there are hundreds of them, many run by gay men and almost all of them run by technology dabblers in their 20s who, like Williams, just wanted to see if it was possible.

Yet in contrast to Scan Patrick Live!, many other such sites aren't flee, few actually stay on around the clock, most refresh the image less frequently than every 30 seconds, and many require computer users to have more advanced Web-viewing software. Williams, who makes a point of keeping the site fee-flee and accessible to even the cheapest Internet-able machines, also entices followers to keep coming back by posting his intimate poetry and by including a message board and chat room on his site. Occasionally, though rarely, he even breaks down the fourth wall by joining the chat or posting a message.

Mostly, Williams insists, he ignores his camera and lives his life normally, almost never acknowledging the gaze of the unseen thousands. "We don't all look great when we get out of bed every morning; why not expose that?" he explains. "What I'm trying to show is that what goes on in somebody else's life always seems bigger and different and fabulous and a lot different than what's going on in our lives. But that's not true. We all stay home sometimes on Saturday nights and watch TV."

Indeed, the tedium is the message. "It does show that all gays aren't out there having sex all the time," says Atlanta resident David Stanley, 48, a loyal viewer of Sean Patrick Live! …

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