What does a pregnant shire horse called Queenie have in common with a German hamster called Hans? Both are Internet webcam stars, in Hans' case for 10 years although the excuse to explain his different appearance roughly every two years (that he "changed his coat overnight") doesn't wash with me any more. Queenie is a main draw over at MyFarm, an experiment in open source farming run by the National Trust. As I write she is expected to give birth and has a live webcam in her stable to catch the moment.
As Hans' case shows, webcams trained on everyday scenes aren't new: the first was set up in the early nineties to monitor the goings on around a kettle in a Cambridge lab. Our motivations to tune in probably haven't changed much either, judging from the analysis in this New York Times article from 2000.
In a 2003 paper anthropologist Daniel Miller observed how the web can harness the power of narrative much like soap opera. However, it can also make this narrative about 'real' people living simultaneous lives and thereby more compelling, much like reality TV. In a final development he saw the Internet's potential for interactive involvement by the user, elaborated in in his 2011 book 'Tales from Facebook' (p 73). He stressed how co-presence is established, reciprocity is possible and thereby relationships are formed, superseding the capacities of earlier media.
I am not sure he had inanimate objects and animals in mind as subjects but if reality TV could encompass the natural world with shows like 'Big Cat Diary', then why not take it to the next level online and start friending our four legged friends?
I'm off to check in on Queenie...