Digital Reiko

I met Digital Reiko when we both appeared on stage in Tokyo as part of a panel discussion of "digital culture." She's shy, poised, intelligent, but does seem to have one fetish: in the hours I spent with her, before, during, and after our panel discussion, she always had at least one hand on her portable computer. As one addict can recognize another, I understood that she was itching to find a telephone cable, plug it into her PowerBook's modem, and retrieve her e-mail. I believed her when she told me she's serious about never leaving her apartment again, once it is properly equipped. Reiko Chiba, nineteen, is planning to spend the rest of her life in cyberspace.
Digital Reiko
"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.
Ms. Chiba can afford to move a reality studio into her apartment, if that's what she wants. 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.
Some fans are so obsessed with all things Reiko that they have found ways to access the Web -- not an easy thing for a teenage girl to do in Tokyo. In fact, the degree of obsession required for a Shibuya seventeen year old female to secure the special kind of Internet account needed to access the web in Japan in 1994 might herald an emerging cultural phenomenon: interactive virtual fandom.
Fans who find their way to Reiko's WWW "home page" can hear Reiko's voice and look at photographs of her wardrobe within a setting hand-drawn by Reiko with a digital paint program. Fans can fill out send messages to Reiko, or respond to her questions. Reiko displayed Reiko's Room on a big screen at the auditorium of the Asahi Shinbun, the second largest newspaper in Japan. Forward-looking technology reporters wanted to introduce their old guard to the new media. Asahi Shinbun executives, managers from Dentsu, the largest advertising agency in the world, multimedia aficionados, watched Reiko describe her plan to become a totally electronic, highly profitable, virtual persona. "My fans voted on which outfit I should wear today," Reiko said to a culture-shocked audience of 1000 Japanese info-industry execs.

In Japan, magazines are based on idols, fashion manufacturers follow the idols' wardrobe, retail shops in Harajuku and Shibuya distribute the latest idol trend gear, television and radio kick in with constant electronic reiteration of the idol's persona, 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 vending industries -- the "star-making machinery" that originated in Hollywood and was perfected in Tokyo. Reiko is moving to her own orbit, the do-it-yourself realm that has driven the computer revolution since the ARPA days, the PARC days, the early Apple. Check with Reiko next year, and you might find out the way the virtual world is going.

I sense a strange historical inflection emanating from the moment a savvy idol singer figured out that she could live in cyberspace. 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.

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.

Digital Zeitgeist | Further Adventures of Digital Reiko
Howard Rheingold's BrainStorms