I met nineteen-year-old Digital Reiko when we both appeared on stage in Tokyo as part of a panel discussion of "digital culture." Her concerts sell out to hordes of fans who spend their time and money trying to look like her. Her CDs are bestsellers, and she is a popular national television personality. Teenage "idol singers" are nothing new to the Tokyo scene, but Digital Reiko is the first one who has decided to go totally virtual, and knows exactly how to do it.
"I was sick as a child, and I spent many years in my room," she explained. She is having the interior of her apartment painted chroma-key blue so she can make her television appearances remotely via special-effects. She has a Digital Reiko home page and plans to use virtual reality as soon as possible to interact with her fans. She spends hours each night online with her fans, through two different online chat services.
In Japan, magazines are based on idols, fashion manufacturers follow the idols' wardrobe, retail shops distribute the latest idol trend gear, television and radio kick in with constant electronic reiteration, creating detailed public personae for millions of adolescent girls -- the economic hamsters in the ever-spinning cage of the media-fashion-entertainment complex. Until now, this has been a top-down phenomenon, fine-tuned by the "star-making machinery" that originated in Hollywood and was perfected in Tokyo.
The medium invented by engineers who are now in their fifties and sixties, developed by programmers now in their thirties and forties, populated by undergraduates and technology jocks in their twenties, is about to undergo another transformation. Here comes a teenage girl from Tokyo who is going to show the world how to create a cult without leaving her room, and make jillions in the process. She'll probably reveal something unexpected about what kind of medium the global multimedia communication network wants to become.
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