By Alex Nagler
I have recently become addicted to the website www.Chatroulette.com. This website enables viewers to be instantly connected with a webcam and a person somewhere in the world. You don’t know who or what you’re going to get. Once connected, viewers have the option to “next” the person they’ve been assigned, and move on to another. They may themselves be nexted by the person they’ve connected with, for any number of reasons. In theory, the site is supposed to allow for communication by means of webcam between people around the world through the joys of random contact. It’s supposed to facilitate the sort interaction that was presumed to be dead with the class stratification of cities and the growth of the suburbs and the car culture. This is what it’s supposed to be—in theory.
In practice, Chatroulette is the perfect example of the Internet proving why we cannot have nice things. The site is populated overwhelmingly by males. A good number of these males are either sitting in front of their screens masturbating or holding up signs requesting the occasional female they come across flash their breasts at them. People spoofing their webcams with programs like ManyCam or CamTwist frequently show clips from pornographic films. These programs can also be used to, as I do, show images requesting that people make specific silly faces or to broadcast clips from classic movie musicals of the 1950s.
Eventually, I got bored of pretending to be Gene Kelly and decided to show my face and see how I’d fare in the harsh world of being disconnected by a random stranger. The first thing I discovered was that people think I resemble comic and former TV dad Bob Saget. In a half an hour period, a dozen people alleged that I resembled a young Danny Tanner bereft of a sweater vest. To test this hypothesis, I put up a text banner above my image asking people to agree or disagree with the statement that I looked like Saget. The Internet overwhelmingly agreed.
The next thing I realized about Chatroulette is that our generation is not the first one to be made up of disastrous perverts. We simply have the means to express ourselves in our perverse viewpoints through things like Second Life and 4chan. A good number of the men pleasuring themselves were older gentlemen. This was one of the things that surprised me.
Another thing that surprised me was how willing people are to talk with you if you appear to be normal. I suppose even on websites that focus on requests for breasts, on men masturbating and on the socially impaired, the ability to hold a conversation is still lauded. And through these conversations, I have learned things about myself. I rarely smile. I talk too much. My eyebrows need to be threaded. I suppose the Internet has things to teach us all, if we’d just get our hands out of our pants.
Chatroulette is a good place to waste a half an hour if you have one. Just don’t check your watch. Otherwise, you’ll realize that the half an hour you planned on spending talking to and rejecting strangers has turned into three hours.