Thanks to my friend setting their GMAIL status as the link to a website, I was exposed to what is in my opinion the powerful cultural experiment called Chatroulette. Essentially, the site is a place to video chat people from around the world, but unlike most chat programs in the Chatroulette world you have no control over whom you chat with and your identity is never recorded. Upon allowing the site to access your camera and microphone you have only to click ‘New Game’ before the program pairs you at random with a fellow Chatrouletter, bringing them into your life and vice versa. At anytime either player may move on to another randomly selected person by clicking the next button. The only options available are to disable audio and/or video and to automatically generate a new partner.
After a few rounds, we are safe in reality and free digitally. I believe we are getting to witness a fine distillation of human exhibitionism and voyeurism functioning at the scale of the masses. The cultural elements that form the underpinnings of this behavior are not new. The new part of the system plays on the fact that for most of us our image today is essentially worth nothing and risk of physical repercussion is seemingly zero with this anonymity.
The majority of what you will find is people alone with an explicit sexual fantasy in mind or made obvious. What makes Chatroulette different from pornographic web chats is that in order to web chat you are never asked for information about you – no proof of age, gender, bank account. Free love then it seems is not dead, its digital. Chatroulette is a sterile worldwide orgy; in the video chat room we don’t touch each other, we can only touch ourselves.
Initially, I wasn’t going to Chatroulette for sexual reasons, but eventually I couldn’t help it, partially out of curiosity, partially because I wanted to be part of the orgy. So with my camera aimed at my crotch, penis exposed occasionally, I waited. The first people to stop and look were two girls cruising; they found it funny. I would throw my genitals on screen and off screen. The next person to stick around, we ended up video fucking. I asked to see her ass and she got on her hands and knees, ass to the camera, and shook it around, spanked herself, and put her fingers into her pussy from between her legs. I just continued masturbating. We decided to get off in front of each other, so we timed it to cum simultaneously. Then we both exchanged thank yous and goodnight. I never knew her name, where she was and I will never see her again. It was a clean and efficient form of sex. The next night I thought I’d test the men masturbating. So I sat with my face onscreen and when a penis or male masturbating came onscreen I wouldn’t hit “next”. Interestingly, something unexpected happened with the men I found in these situations. Instead of moving on, leaving me at the mercy of the randomizer, they would continue to masturbate. Even after I put my genitals onscreen they would stay and look at another penis. I wonder what sexual orientation that is? Were these by chance gay men or does it simply not matter when you get to the point that no girls or anyone at all will watch?
Oh, there is a way for someone to report you, but instead of a scary warning or sirens the only punishment one receives is ten minutes without access, effectively a timeout. But what policing system could exist for this? First, it requires someone from the masses to snitch. Does one ask them self before reporting what the consequence will be? The issue of self-surveillance from computer crimes, indecent exposure or ‘child grooming’, a common abuse comes up. The creation of the I.R.O.C.’s (The Institute for Responsible Online and Cell-Phone Communication) is “based on overwhelming public evidence that many individuals are not aware of the short and long term consequences of their own actions when utilizing our world’s rapidly evolving digital technologies irresponsibly.”1 They claim “if you knowingly or ignorantly utilize technology irresponsibly, your life can be altered in 0.1 seconds! Without a proactive understanding of how to use all current and future technology safely, responsibly, and with awareness, digital devices are nothing more than weapons of self destruction.”2 In Florida the law “Use of a Computer to Seduce a Child” makes doing so a felony “Authored by then State Senator Mark Foley, who as a Congressman authored the federal law against grooming and resigned from office due to allegations of grooming and sexual harassment of underage males.” 3
Publicly, people do not accept this behavior. The news is not equipped to talk about Chatroulette without shunning it. ”There’s a new place where creeps like to dwell, its called Chatroulette” said Katie Couric as part of a skit on The Daily Show with John Stewart. The reports in the mainstream news cannot help but spread propaganda that denies an image of sex anywhere in American culture. The other opportunities in Chatroulette can hardly be talked about without a forewarning to those maybe hearing it first. For parents the only method to protect your kids would be to block it or contact an agency to help you.
Some things about Chatroulette, however, should not be stopped. It is a beginning. Actually, a lot of the talk about it is that it will be bought out. Unlike a creation like craigslist it can morph. Chatroulette is a website that allows a version of free speech and free assembly by exploring the Internet’s lack of censorship. I have had web parties where my momentary partner and I dance to music together. Other people play music together, draw each other, talk about loneliness. Sure I watched someone from Paris jerk off and yelled at a racist college student who called my Haitian roommate a nigger, but its not all risque. Unlike playing video games with a camera on you, the partners entertain each other, unprescribed.
But ultimately we, and when I say we I mean everyone in the world, go predominantly for sex at the website’s current state. Chatroulette is gaining recognition, but is not the cultural resource it could be. That’s not to say that we aren’t evolved enough yet not to squander such a valuable opportunity for connectivity, however, some questions are raised by our wanton behavior in the face of progress: What is the potential of human culture with a digital arena? How can anonymity be 21 century? How can the format have ingredients added? Is Chatroulette a web app or a model for more specialized web apps?
From the same comedy skit with John Stewart, Keith Olberman called Chatroulette ”the surveillance state gone viral.”4 Possibly to be able to have conversation with a mass of individuals one on one immediately is 21 century. It reminds me of Damien Hirst’s book title I want to spend the rest of my life everywhere, with everyone, one to one, always forever, now.
This post was contributed by Cassidy Fry.