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Dying Live: An Experiment

“See a Person Dying Live On Your Computer,” the Web promotion read.

An estimated 20,000 people logged onto the Web site to see a man dying–live, as advertised–on March 27.
What viewers saw was an image of magician Jim Callahan simply sitting there. From time to time, he would display a sign reading, “Follow the Egress Link.”
After people left the live image of Callahan via the “egress,” they were able to read a message from the man himself.
“We are all dying. I am, you are (even as you read this)–all of us are,” Callahan wrote. “A clock keeps track of what is lost (you were viewing me, a person dying of natural causes). I believe those who view life in such a way are less likely to waste time. Life is a terminal illness. Time wears us all away.”
Callahan intended to demonstrate how people mismanage time.
“Is a television program worth the child that disappears from your life daily?” Callahan wrote on his site. “The little boy or girl you saw this morning you will never see again.”
Callahan told the Baptist Center for Ethics (BCE) his “presentation” or “experiment,” as he termed the Internet event, was “like an onion because it has so many layers.”
Callahan, who grew up in Pittsburgh and now works out of Buford, S.C., has been entertaining audiences for over 20 years as a magician and lecturer.
He speaks at high schools, churches and other community functions on the topic of media manipulation. As cults “program” followers, Callahan says, so do media.
The media manipulate people using the presentation of extremes, according to Callahan. Extreme positions attract the press. Consequently, people think extremes best represent issues.
People are attracted by extremes, polarization and sensationalism, Callahan told BCE. “It was my desire to have you look at things from my vantage point–slightly from the side and back a step,” he wrote on his site.
For example, thousands of people logged onto the Internet to see a man dying. When they failed to see what they thought they were going to see, several posted irate and obscene comments to the open forum on Callahan’s site.
“I think maybe you need to look at this for what it was,” Callahan responded, “and not what you wanted it to be.”
And what was it? An experiment demonstrating the importance of time and family.
“Do me a favor after you are done here,” he told those who followed the egress from his Web cam. “Go play with your kids, get outside and take a walk [and] look around, call a relative, make a friend. Do it so you don’t regret not doing it. I believe I have already provided you some thing to talk about.”
“Life is something precious,” he told BCE. “And it only lasts for so long.”
Cliff Vaughn is BCE’s associate director.