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Mexico stays home and goes virtual

CHURCHGOERS celebrate Mass via television. Congressional candidates campaign with real-time speeches on the Internet. A magazine promises Internet tours of Mexico. And rock bands plan online concerts.

Swine flu is creating a virtual Mexico.

With school canceled nationwide and many parents forbidding their kids to party, teenagers are logging a lot more time chatting on Facebook, Twittering and downloading music and movies from the Internet. So are many adults, especially after most business and government offices in Mexico City shut down last Friday for five days.

Two rock bands are making a go at reaching shut-in fans, announcing a virtual concert to be held today. Los Estramboticos, a Mexico City group, and Pastilla, a Latino band from the United States, will perform in a studio and broadcast it online. At least they can get exposure while Mexico's ban on concerts lasts.

"Entrance is free and you can come without a surgical mask or fear of getting diseases," the bands announced in a Web advertisement.

The problem is that even teenagers are starting to get bored of the virtual life.

"I'm like, sick of it," said Bibiana Perez, 16, a Mexico City high school student whose daily routine has consisted of morning Facebook chats with her friends, watching movies in the afternoon, and then evening Facebook chats with her friends.

"I've started to cook and do things I don't normally do," she said. "I've never made brownies, so I made brownies. I tried lasagna, but it didn't turn out so good."

Alex Pradillo, 17, finds himself spending six to eight hours a day downloading music from the Web or chatting with friends.

"It's definitely getting boring," he said. "It's tedious sitting around all day and the computer is starting to annoy me."

But boredom was still not enough to lure many Mexican City residents from their homes on Sunday.

Normally packed churches were all but empty. Priests in surgical masks offered Mass before a handful of faithful - also wearing masks. Cardinal Norberto Rivera held a televised service for those staying home.

Sunday also marked the official start of campaigning for the July 5 congressional elections - but the government urged candidates not to hold rallies. So candidates turned to the Internet to reach a population afraid join screaming crowds, shake hands or hold out babies for kisses.

Mexico has shut all its museums, archaeological ruins and theaters. Mexico City residents are discouraged from leaving the city.

The magazine Inside Mexico jumped at the chance to promise an alternative: virtual strolls through "cobblestone medieval-tinged streets," biking and hiking in spa towns and even jungle treks.


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