On Thursday, Feb. 8, the day of the 24 Hours in Cyberspace project, we spent some time — eight hours exactly — trailing photographers covering a little galaxy in cyberspace known as Manhattan. We went the entertainment route, visiting the set of a World Wide Web soap opera, watched as a former governor and a rapper chatted online, caught up with an artist who’d inspired a virtual dance club, watched a rocker demonstrating an instrument he invented, and checked out a casting call for an Internet fashion show.
These events added up to mere minutes of 24 Hours in Cyberspace, the brainchild of Rick Smolan, the photographer behind the Day in the Life book series. 24 Hours aimed to revel in the Net’s possibilities, picturing people using the Net in their everyday (and not-so-everyday) lives and exploring its potential to create a global village — while making money along the way. Over the course of the day, 150 pro photographers wired in pictures from around the world, with some of those shots quickly uploaded from Smolan’s headquarters in San Francisco to an advertiser-supported website at http://www.cyber24.com.
Ironically, it was also the day many sites were dimmed to protest the President’s signing of a telecommunications bill that could limit free speech on the Net. 24 Hours acknowledged the issue by posting a blue ribbon on its home page.
At 8 a.m., photographer Nicole Bengiveno snapped away in the back room of the trendy Coffee Shop, where the cybersoap Union2 was being shot. But in a twist worthy of any daytime serial, it turned out that most of the cast and crew don’t even own computers. Actress Cornelia Lorentzen cited ”privacy paranoia” to explain why she hasn’t hooked up her Apple to a modem. ”I think it’s a good thing,” she said. ”I just can’t quite get myself around it.”
That belief was shared by other subjects — people who embrace the concept of a wired world but shy away from the reality. Take the event shot by Frank Micelotta at Sony’s SW Networks, where Mario Cuomo, Q-Tip of A Tribe Called Quest, and hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons went online as part of a Rap the Vote program to encourage voter registration among urban youth. ”There is no third party,” Cuomo (or FormGov, as he appeared on screen) dictated to a typist, ”because the two parties in charge don’t want one.” Next to him, Simmons was chatting too — on a cell phone — while a technician struggled to connect his computer to the conference. As Micelotta coaxed the trio into posing around one of the monitors, a few terminals away a Sony producer signed on as Q-Tip. ”Yo! Q-Tip here! Sorry I’m late!” she typed. ”Rap the Vote! Get out there and register AND vote this year.” Eventually Q-Tip (who later revealed ”I never voted in my life”) began typing himself. He doesn’t own a computer, though he said he’ll get one ”next week.” Cuomo does: ”I have computers everywhere, but I don’t use any of them.” And Simmons? ”I can barely learn to put a phone number in my mobile. Doesn’t mean I don’t believe in it, and I have a website for [my] Def Jam [label] and people who are computer-literate.”
Pop artist Kenny Scharf, who was shot in the Cosmic Cavern, a room he designed in the Tunnel dance club, echoes that sentiment. Website company Total New York is developing, with Scharf’s input, a graphical chat area that approximates the Cavern’s playful decor. Does Scharf, who has an AOL account, gab online? ”I used to talk to my friends all over the country,” he said, ”but now I don’t have any time, so I don’t even do that.”
Musician Francis Dunnery, on the other hand, is more cybersavvy. Trading E-mail addresses with Micelotta, he fancifully predicted that one day people would be having children on the Net. ”You’ll be downloading sperm,” he said.
At a casting call for a cyber fashion show, photographer Dustin Pittman took over from the beauty editor ostensibly in charge: ”Put the glasses on for me,” he said, making the photo seem more important than the event.
Thankfully, not all that made it onto the 24 Hours website resembled puffery (those events that didn’t go up immediately may end up on the permanent site due March 17 or in the companion book or CD-ROM next fall). Among the more inspirational stories: a Kentucky couple who used the Web to find a Korean baby to adopt, and Buddhist monks in Japan who link up with other temples. But do those monks really log on themselves?