VOYEURISM '90S STYLE; WEB CAMS PEEPING INTO PRIVATE LIVES.
Beware - you could be starring in your very own ``Truman Show'' and not even know it.
With the arrival of $100 digital video cameras, Hollywood's paranoid fantasy about a man unaware that his every moment is televised is becoming a scary possibility.
High-tech Peeping Toms are training their lenses on neighbors, dorm mates and strangers, broadcasting the results over the Internet to a global army of voyeurs.
All over the world, Web cameras are pointed out windows, filming the passing scene for the viewing pleasure of cybernauts.
There are dozens in Los Angeles alone. Next time you're skating at the Strand in Hermosa Beach, or hiking by the Hollywood sign, or waiting for a light at Hollywood Boulevard and Vine Street, wave. Someone from Norway, or maybe Peru, may be watching you.
On the flip side, a growing army of exhibitionists are wiring their homes with the tiny cameras, allowing computer users worldwide to peek at them as they eat, sleep, work, undress, play air guitar, pick their noses or just stare into space.
In the last few days, the national news media has been counting down to Aug. 4 when a couple identifying themselves as 18-year-old virgins will make love for the first time live on their Web site (www.ourfirsttime.com). The couple, who call themselves Mike and Diane, say they are recently graduated Los Angeles-area high school honor students who were inspired by the recent live birth on the Internet. However on Friday, the Internet provider canceled the Web site, saying it had doubts about the authenticity of the couple's claims.
It's one more indication how voyeurism and exhibitionism have become the latest Internet rage, and technology is blurring the lines between public and private lives.
``Everybody's got a little bit of a voyeur in them,'' said Lorraine Chu, who has a Web-connected camera trained on her desk at work and in her San Francisco Bay Area home, broadcasting her daily life to thousands of eager viewers.
``People love to see how other people live,'' she said. ``This is my 15 megabytes of fame.''
Sean Patrick Williams of Washington, whose Web viewers have seen him spill pizza toppings into his lap and pass out drunk, says he's a hit because he's not perfect.
``People see a reflection of themselves,'' he said. ``You watch TV or movies, and you see people wake up wearing makeup, looking perfect. I wake up and, well - it's not pretty. I think people find that refreshing.''
Williams said many of his 75,000 daily viewers are in Australia and Europe.
``It seems extremely popular to watch me sleep,'' he said. ``They're at work, they're stressed, and they flip over and watch me sleep. Some even send me bedsheets so they can see me sleep on them.''
Perhaps part of the appeal is that Williams, a buff 26-year-old, sleeps naked.
High and low
Such Web cams - also called Net cams or live cams - are popping up everywhere.
There are so many in fact, that sites have popped up that keep track of all the Web cam sites.
Some of the biggest are Webcam Central (at www.camcentral.com), the DCN Webcam of the Day (at www.dcn.com), Planet Webcam (at www.voyeurtv.com) and This is Your Live Cam (at www.live-cam.com.ar).
Both DCN and Webcam Central have links to Web sites in two dozen or more countries.
Among the bewildering array of live cameras featured on those sites is the RoachCam, aimed at a bunch of truly revolting Madagascar hissing cockroaches in a tank in South Carolina, and FridgeCam, located in the refrigerator of a family in Sweden that goes on only when the door opens.
And there's KelpCam, for those who want to see the seaweed in an exhibit at the Monterey Bay Aquarium.
Every major New York tourist landmark - including the Brooklyn Bridge, Statue of Liberty and World Trade Center - has a camera pointed at it. There's one in Bryant Park and another on the 77th floor of the Empire State Building. And similar sites, famous and decidedly less so (stretches of highway in the Seattle area), are the focus of Web cams the world over.
Computer users can manipulate the Rockefeller Center cam, zooming in or moving it around. And Manhattan Transfer, the postproduction company that shows the world the hot-dog vendor on 45th Street and taxis zipping by on Fifth Avenue, had a killer view of the recent hectic, construction-worker protest.
Seeking something more soothing? The International Waterlily Society has two cameras trained on a pond near Portland, Ore.
Eat your heart out, Monet.
A virtual trip around the world is only 80 clicks away.
Take a look inside a cafe on the Rue des Medicis in Paris or at the traffic conditions on Cape Cod's Sagamore Bridge. Look out the window of a real estate office at Nantucket's Main Street or at the mist drifting by Dublin's O'Connell Street Bridge.
From KremlinCam to KarachiCam, the world is at your fingertips.
However, kelp, roaches and pretty skylines have nothing on real people, and the perverts are having a field day.
``The theme of our Web site is simple: young girls naked and lots of hidden cameras,'' claims one site, which charges $10 a month for ``a front-row seat to the hottest live voyeur footage on the Internet.''
The site boasts 25 secret cameras placed in locker rooms, shower stalls, tanning salons and store changing rooms - offering grainy video of unsuspecting women taking off clothes.
For obvious reasons, the site does not reveal in what parts of the country the cameras are placed.
Not all spy cams are nefarious; several day-care centers allow working parents to check in on their kids from their desks.
Howard Besser, a professor at the University of California, Berkeley, School of Information Management, worries that the explosion of cameras soon will mean the end of privacy altogether.
But he speculated that part of the appeal of Web cams is their novelty. He noted that in the early days of home photography, every snapshot was marveled over, no matter how dull the subject.
``Web cams are popular now because you haven't seen it before - that'll die off,'' he said.
Daily news Staff Writer David Bloom contributed to this story. To reach Bloom with stories, tips and other information on the intersection of art, entertainment and technology, contact him by e-mail at davidbloomearthlink.net.
Photo: (1) The RoachCam is fixed on Madagascar roaches kept at the University of South Carolina.
(2--3) Top, the StrandCam positioned in a Hermosa Beach house and, below, an unidentified woman with a Web site, have voyeurs watching on the Internet.