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Active Cultures:wildlife on the Web

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While doing research, writer David Hauptschein stumbled upon a Web site devoted to people who think their minds are being controlled by someone or something. Another site detailed a man's obsession with making a ball out of foil and gum wrappers. That site has regular updates on the ball's weight and size as well as a synopsis of its history and projections of its future dimensions.

"People have always been engaged in very peculiar activities," says Hauptschein. "In the past when they felt compelled to say something they could write a letter, send a signal out to the world in Morse code, pick up a phone, or stand on the street corner and shout. It was somewhat limited. Now if you have something to say you can put it out there--and millions of people could potentially see it. It's like entering people's homes."

For the past month Hauptschein and Ira Glass have been gathering Internet tales for their upcoming Stories From the Web, a performance consisting of retold stories and interviews as well as call-ins and an audience open-mike. Glass and Hauptschein recently worked together on a similar show where people read from letters; the readings were edited and broadcast later on Glass's weekly radio program This American Life. For this show Glass and his assistants have been sifting through more than 350 pages of submissions, everything from unpublished short stories that have nothing to do with the Internet to intimate accounts of cyberrelationships.

One of the people Glass interviewed is a University of California professor who met someone in a gay chat room and became intimate with him very quickly. The two engaged in daily cybersex for several weeks. Then the man's typing became progressively slower, and finally he switched to all capital letters. The professor suspected something was wrong, and he was right. "The guy he was communicating with was stricken with AIDS," says Glass. "A few weeks later he killed himself. So he's had an entire fling with someone he'd never met--an entire life relationship on his computer."

"I get the feeling half the people are walking around, brains about to boil over, holding it in enough to get to work and keep their relationships functioning," says Hauptschein. "Then they get on the Internet, and it all flies out. But basically I think it's a good thing. It provides an interesting place for people to get together."

Stories From the Web begins at 8 PM Saturday, May 17, and next Saturday at the Museum of Contemporary Art, 220 E. Chicago. Admission is $12, $9 for students and seniors. Call 312-280-2660. --Cara Jepsen

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Photo of David Hauptschein by Jim Alexander Newberry.

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