Thursday, March 11, 2010

Looking For a Random Stranger…

I spent last night with a bunch of total strangers.

After reading about Chatroulette in Time magazine, I was curious.  It's new tech, so I had to check it out. Little did I know that it would scratch a voyeuristic itch that I didn’t even know that I had.

Chatroulette is a simple concept. Logging on to the website enables you to see through the web cam of any one of the 20,000 other people who are also logged in, and they in turn are looking through yours. It is all completely anonymous. No personal information is given. All you know about the person is what you can see through the small window on the screen. At any time, either person can press a button and jump a different random person and once you do there is no way to return to the pervious webcam.

Although you can see and hear each other, there is very little chatting going on. Most of the interactions are slient and last less than a second before somebody presses the “next” button and disappears. During the time I spent on the site, I came face to face with dozens of different people from all over the world. Most of the time, it was a singular guy (some of whom I could tell were disappointed that I was not a hot chick), but there were also women and various groups of people huddled around their webcams.

Sometimes interesting and unexpected things showed up on the screen. One person had their camera focused solely on the neck of their guitar as they sat there and played music. Another had the camera trained on a glass bong. Sometimes the camera showed an empty room. This being the internet, there were also some naked people, One large woman wore nothing but a bustier. One couple was having sex in front of the camera. The creep factor was also high and every so often a guy playing with himself would appear on the screen. These images were fleeting and easily erased with the click of a button. Most of the time, however, it was just regular people staring at each other.

Gazing at these strangers reminded me of the distinct feeling of being a teenager at a party, looking at a girl across the room. As soon as her gaze met mine, I would shyly turn away even though making eye contact with her was my goal. Although we were all logged into a site with the singular purpose of looking at each other, the majority of the time either the stranger or I would press the “next” button as soon as our eyes connected.

The “next” button gets pressed quite a lot and each time that it is, the program gives the same message as it loads up the next camera feed, “Looking for a random stranger…”

You never know what would appear on the screen each time the button is clicked.  I began to imagine a Hitchcockian scenario that had me clicking to the next person, inadvertently witnessing some crime being committed and soon finding myself on the run for having seen too much. (The eventual movie that follows would inevitably star Shia LeBouf.) But that never happened.

My collective experience on Chatroulette was made up of micro-moments. There were a few times when a brief connection was made.  One person complimented me on my beard before clicking away. Another told me I looked creepy and I managed to return the sentiment before I pressed the button.  One guy said, “I’m looking for Jessica Alba” before nexting me. At one point I kept my camera on when I had to leave the room and I returned to find a woman staring closely at her screen, curiously trying to identify the objects on my bookshelf that she could see through my camera. As soon as I poked my head back into the shot, she was gone.

“Looking for a random stranger…”

There was a guy wearing a Boba Fett helmet, some college guys playing video games, a couple of Japanese guys in an office cubicle, two girls drinking wine, a person with cat on their head, a dude in an alien mask…

“Looking for a random stranger…”

Chatroulette is a strange experience--thousands of strangers all signed on to a website, mutually spying on each other, giving each other permission to sneak glimpses of our lives.  We simultaneously become the voyeur and the object.  It's surreal.  The moments between these strangers were fleeting, but never boring.  It is completely hypnotic.

20 comments:

Your escalator operator said...

I'm shocked about the Boba Fett guy.

sahdpdx said...

This was an interesting well written piece on Chatroulette. I know what you mean about looking across the room only to look away when you make eye contact.

ZenMom said...

Intriguing.

WannabeVirginia W. said...

Nice informative piece. Interesting yet a little high on the creepy factor on that website.

Wonderwife said...

Facinating idea - didn't read that article yet. I know what I'm doing tonight. One of your best written pieces that didn't pertain to The Bean or Sprout.

Daddy Geek Boy said...

YEO...That's what shocks you? For a second, I thought it might've been Sci Fi Dad. (I know, Sci Fi Dad's avatar is not a Boba Fett helmet.)

SAHDPDX...Thanks man.

Zen...It totally is.

Wannabe...Yeah it's kind of creepy. But the visual is at once shocking and weird, that it struck me as kind of funny.

WW™...Let me know what you think.

SciFi Dad said...

You nexted me before I could say your beard looked creepy. ;)

Seriously though, I just tried it. Weird, and more than a little disconcerting as far as the number of dicks I was exposed to.

Monty Burns said...

well written homie! From what I had seen of this on Colbert and tosh.o .. it seems like it's about 80percent dicks. I think my max dick quotient is about 6%... and why no naked ladies? Guys can't be the only ones who secretly want to flash strangers...

Daddy Geek Boy said...

SciFi...Yeah, there were a lot of dicks, but they are easily bypassed and like I said before, it's kind of funny.

Monty...Not 80%, I'd say more like 30%. But for some that's too many dicks.

Blogging Mama Andrea said...

It seems kinda weird & creepy to me. I don't think I'd want to risk hitting the more questionable pictures I might come across.

But I doubt anyone wants to see me in my sweatshirt and pjs drinking a coffee either ;)

James (SeattleDad) said...

I was all intrigued before the dick thing.

Daddy Geek Boy said...

Andrea...yeah it may be a "young persons thing" but so was Facebook before us old folk took it over.

James...I think the intrigue outweighs the male nudity. I don't think a penis here or there is that big of a deal.

Vancetastic said...

For the first time in my life, I really care about the fact that I don't have a webcam on my computer.

handstowar said...

Dude... this sounds freakin' awesome. I hadn't even heard of it until today actually when I was watching the news then I read your story.

Love your stuff BTW.

Daddy Geek Boy said...

Vance...If you ever want to try it out, let me know.

Handstowar...Thanks for the compliment! It is a totally weird, creepy, surreal and interesting thing.

Daddy Geek Boy said...

I've heard from a few friends in the wake of this post and a lot were skeeved out. I don't think they gave it a lot of time. I spent about an hour on the site to collect a few nuggets of good stories. WonderWife™ spent a little bit less, but also got some good responses from people. It takes a little bit of patience and not caring about seeing some of the creepier stuff. I don't think just a few mins on it is going to offer up a great experience.

Good luck!

missylovesyou said...

So, after reading this post I gave it a try. I'm guessing because of the time difference I barely ran into any Americans (only a group of college guys who were very polite and interested in my Korean adventure). I got to exercise my German and French, and actually spoke (typed rather, I didn't speak to anyone) to a guy that lives 10 mins from my old house in Germany.

My finger did get a little bit of a work out pushing "report" to all the dick-cams. Gross.

But, once I got past the dick-factor, this was a pretty good experience. I got to listen to a guy playing this russian instrument, which I forget the name of, but it looked like a mandolin.

missylovesyou said...

and now I wrote a little blurb about my experience.... and linked back to your blog.


See it here!

Daddy Geek Boy said...

Missy...I'm totally checking out your blog right now. Thanks for the link. Hey everyone else...you should check out Missy's blog too!

The Pipster said...

Thanks for posting about this. I have not heard of it. Fascinating. I need to buy a webcam and experience this one time!