Connectix QuickCam

The first image broadcast on JenniCAM in 1996 using a QuickCam.

Beginning in 1994, Connectix began to manufacture and sell the first off-the-shelf webcam to consumers called the QuickCam. The Connectix QuickCam retailed for $100 and captured 320×240 grayscale images at fifteen frames per second.

With the arrival of webcams, people were now able to share images online without expensive equipment or the need for extensive training. Unlike the IRC chatrooms and instant messaging services that preceded them, webcams were a truly visual experience. Home computers of the era were capable of displaying graphics, but webcams emphasized the transmission of images rather than the presentation of them. By removing distance between subjects and viewers, webcams led to the emergence of telepresence, or the ability to visually be in different locations at the same time. While the cameras are physically far, space is a dynamically perceived feeling. People could feel closer to a person or animal captured by a camera than to someone physically in the same room with them.

People were attracted to the idea of seeing life taking place somewhere else under the illusion that what they were witnessing was more real than our everyday lives. Among the first pioneers of webcams were camgirls like Jennifer Rigley and Ana Voog that took advantage of the medium to broadcast continuous feeds of the lives inside their bedrooms. Unsurprisingly, people were attracted to the idea of seeing others in their most intimate and vulnerable states. While many struggled with the almost panoptical nature of the cams, these women projected the cameras in on themselves willingly. Unlike the power structure associated with traditional surveillance systems, they felt empowered at the possibilities of being visible to an audience. They could point the camera wherever they liked and craft narratives around their own identities. In some sense, these individuals had reclaimed the copyright of their own lives.

Logitech acquired Connectix in 1996 and continued to improve the QuickCam line. Today you can purchase a QuickCam that captures 1080p images for less than $50.

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