Chatroulette — that person-to-person video chat site that everyone’s talking about — is possibly yet another “everything old is new again” online voyeuristic fad.
Think of it as a speed-date through fleeting face-to-face human encounters: “Accept” when the site asks for permission to use your webcam, and be prepared for a wheel through the superficiality of random webcam chat.
The first-time experience is intimidating. There’s the laughing teens who’ll judge with a glance and soon disappear, or spending all of five seconds with shadowy Halloween masked figures.
The perversions you’ll encounter are straight out of a 1990s AOL chat-room. But stick with the exhibitionism a little longer, and suddenly, it’s been three or four hours of “nexting” through real and unfiltered encounters.
It’s how I met a Brazilian girl whom I mostly communicated with by copy and pasting English responses Google-translated into Portuguese, or when a friend of mine and I went back and forth with an ex-skateboarder from the Netherlands with old school hip hop YouTube clips, setting off an impromptu dance party that lasted into the wee hours of a Saturday morning.
The site now has 10,000 to 16,000 users, and those numbers are quickly growing, as is the collective fascination it’s sprung for the thrill of an un-mediated gamble on talking with strangers worldwide. Chatroulette was just exposed as the brainchild of 17-year-old Russian, Andrey Ternovskiy, who shared in an email to the New York Times the site’s inspiration: “I myself enjoyed talking to friends on Skype, but got tired of talking to each other — so I decided to create a little site to connect randomly to other people.”
Indeed, Fast Company sums up the net’s latest parlour game best as “self-published entertainment.” It’s a disconnect from our networked culture’s demands for transparency and fixed user identities, and the site’s pseudo-anonymous nature (outrageous masked figures and celebrities like the Jonas Brothers or Paris Hilton have already been screencapped for public posterity) reflecting our yearning for ye old Internet chatroom: Meaningful yet still entirely disposable mingling with strangers.
With files from Metro World News
– Rea McNamara writes about the on/offline statuses of niches and subcultures. Follow her on Twitter @reeraw