Is Virtual Fame Fleeting?

SAN FRANCISCO (05/09/2000) - Imagine this: In a few years you log on to the People magazine Web site and read the following headline: "Whatever Happened to Ananova?"

Touted as the "world's first virtual newscaster," Ananova has made a big media splash in the past few weeks, winning coverage from the Associated Press, the BBC, and CNN. But can the careers of cybercelebrities such as Ananova, T-Babe, and E-Cyas last longer than their human counterparts? Or will these new virtual stars quickly land in the cultural junk heap somewhere between Max Headroom, Apple Computer Inc.'s Lisa, and Microsoft Corp.'s Bob?

Here are our virtual predictions:

Ananova: Developed by a U.K. company, the Deborah Norville look-alike has green hair, wears the same blouse every day, and recites the news headlines with even less warmth and personality than an automated voice-mail operator. In the future, her makers claim, she will guide us through electronic commerce transactions on computers, mobile phones, televisions, and more. At the moment, her fame has already inspired imitators, such as Andy Nova, "the first real life human simulating a 3-D virtual newscaster."

Prediction: Within nine months, Ananova will be replaced by a more human-like news-reading robot, NBC's Stone Phillips. Distraught, Ananova will drink too much and land in the Betty Ford Clinic. After becoming clean and sober, she'll tour with Diana Ross as one of the Supremes.

T-Babe: According to her makers Glasgow Records, the voluptuous T-Babe has brown eyes and blond hair, and is the founder of a new music style dubbed "cybo." All this, and the virtual pop artist is only 18 (which makes her just a smidge older than the IBM PC Jr.).

Prediction: Like her real-world model, Suzanne Somers, T-Babe will enjoy success as the well-endowed star of adolescent fantasies. There will be T-Babe posters, trading cards, and hot-water bottles. Within six months, however, T-Babe's career as a pop star will fade. She'll disappear for a few months and re-emerge as the star of the world's first online Thighmaster infomercial. A year later, she'll have her own Web site, E-Babe, the purpose of which cannot be discussed in a family-friendly environment.

E-Cyas: An acronym for "Electronic Cybernetic Artificial Superstar," E-Cyas has released a single in Germany and the U.K. titled Are You Real? The politically correct, spiritual cyberstar looks like Keanu Reeves attempting to play Jesus.

Prediction: In the next few months, a minor E-Cyas craze will hit America.

Teenage girls will spend untold hours at their computers, professing their love for the virtual star. But soon a nasty E-Cyas virus, which automatically registers its victims as Metallica copyright infringers, will spread across the globe. Stuck in the United States, E-Cyas will become the New Jersey turnpike's first electronic toll-booth operator.

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