Page 2 of 2 Previous
The four acres of woods and spacious suburban Minneapolis rambler where Rachael Olson lives with her husband and two toddlers is a far cry from the tiny Loring Park apartment that the artist-singer-provocateur known as Ana Voog once used as her techno-gateway to the world.
Birds, foxes, deer, wild mushrooms, trees and a nature setting worthy of Walden Pond -- there's a big part of Olson that wants to share it with you in the same way she shared every aspect of herself 15 years ago via Anacam.com. But a bigger part doesn't want you, or anyone, to know anything about her new life.
"I want to start wearing a burqa; there's a part of me that wants to shut down, like I don't really want you to see me anymore," said Olson, who on Sunday will perform a live set of music for the first time since 2001, opening for Ultravox frontman Midge Ure at the Belmore/New Skyway Lounge in Minneapolis.
The 45-year-old daughter of a Lutheran pastor and a homemaker, she sat on a waterbed in the basement "art room" as her daughters whiled away mom's interview time drawing and painting on the walls -- an activity their parents encourage.
At one point, she said, Anacam attracted 700,000 hits a day from voyeurs who tuned in to see her eat, sleep, watch TV, sit at her computer, make art, get naked or have sex.
"I was just in my little apartment and poor, eating TV dinners and ramen noodles and being a slob. It was nothing glamorous at all. I'm sort of the anti-Kardashian: Here I am, in my pajamas, or whatever. I didn't do it to get famous. I did it because it was fun."
The fun caught on. Olson appeared on "Hard Copy" and "Entertainment Tonight," and was featured in Newsweek, USA Today and Playboy. These days, everybody and their dog is an Internet star, but back then she was something of a pioneer.
"I was sort of the first Facebook," said Olson, only half-kidding, about the community that sprang up around Anacam. "If you put a webcam on everybody's Facebook, which I'm sure is what will happen, because people Skype so much now, then yeah, everyone will know what it's like to be me."
At the moment, what it's like to be Olson is to be in semi-recovery from self-exposure. Along with the fun she had with Anacam, there was a dark side -- the stalkers, haters and gossips that populate the high school lunchroom that is the Internet, and a very real energy-suck.
"We see that all the time with the explosion of reality TV," said Heather LaMarre, an assistant professor at the University of Minnesota who studies social media. "Media psychologists are seeing all sorts of outward warning signs about what this does to the human psyche."
She and other new-media experts would do well to study Olson, who could be the poster child for both the untold possibility of online life and its unhinged narcissism.
According to LaMarre, "people's online identities are created out of a need for self-esteem, a connectivity need, and for some people it gives them a sense of importance. And I don't mean that in the sense of ego, I mean like really feeling like they matter in the world. So people who are missing that connection in their personal life, some people can find that online."
For Olson, Anacam was akin to giving a performance, but with no dressing room to find safe harbor in.
"I got sick the first month of Anacam because there was 7 million people watching me, and I felt depleted," she said. "I didn't feel really grounded, and I just wanted to sleep a lot. And I realized I wasn't filtering all that energy that was coming at me."
For Olson, part of her grounding process has included marrying Matthew Bruce (whom she met via -- what else? -- Anacam), and raising their two daughters, who were conceived and born on camera. "I was 40, he was 25, and he had insightful comments, and we connected in a good way," she said.
Bruce "thought she was a great artist, visually and with her music," he said. "I also thought she was a great writer. That's what really won me over in the end -- her ability to communicate her thoughts from every angle and every kind, from minutiae to the profound, the big and the little. By the time we met in person, I felt like I already knew her well, and I was right."
An aspiring screenwriter, he supports the family by working as a home coordinator for adults with special needs.
"Home life is the most important thing for both of us," Bruce said. "Our kids are 3 and 4. It's exhausting, maddening fun. It's a lot of cleaning up after spills and working through temper tantrums, teaching them how to be polite and say 'please' and 'thank you' and to stay seated at the dinner table. It's a lot of reading books and dancing and laughing in the living room, cuddling and playing in the snow in the back yard."
Olson launched her stage career as leader of '90s local rockers the Blue Up?, with whom she often performed shirtless. That exhibitionism led directly to the no-fear philosophy that guided Anacam, but at the moment it all feels pretty tame, considering the tsunami of personal information that comes over the electronic transom every day.
"When the Internet first started, we were all really excited about it," she said. "In that sense, it was really hippie. Or the beginning of the punk era, where everyone was like 'This is gonna change the world.' And then everyone got on, the government got involved, and now there are commercials all over everything. It's just devolving. It's really hate-filled, too. There's good things about it, but more and more it can be a pit of hell."
Olson turned off Anacam in 2009 after living online for 12 years. She still maintains the website, through which fans can purchase Olson-designed hats and clothes and read her riffs on a book she'd like to write about male-female energy, pornography, feng shui and the Internet. But for the moment, her contribution to the pit of hell is just long posts on Facebook.
"I would still love to do Anacam, but the problem is I have two daughters now. I'm trying to figure out a way to do it, to put a filter on the camera, so there's just a presence that they can't make out, like, 'I think that's her hand,' just so that they can have someone to stay up late with. You don't feel as alone, or something. It's calming, in a way, and I want to be that for people, still, in a way.
"I miss showing people stuff, talking to people, and the photography of it. I miss almost all of the aspects of it -- I don't miss the people who stalk me to this day. But I would like to have my cam again and show how my house is being decorated. It's fun having a cam, but I don't want a bunch of creepy guys looking at my daughters. I just won't go there. "