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Mar. 3 2010 - 10:51 am | 3,429 views | 1 recommendation | 11 comments

A weekend of ChatRoulette (Or: I play ChatRoulette so you don’t have to)

My preferred attire for ChatRoulette

My preferred attire for ChatRoulette

ChatRoulette has been getting lots of attention lately, notably with articles written in New York Magazine and in the New York Times. But so far, the articles have been written by men. According to the Wall Street Journal, 87% of the site’s users are male after all (and 5-8% of users are naked). The video chatting game is a completely different world for women. Female chatters get “nexted” far less often, so it’s not such a blow to the ego. It’s more fun and less desperate.

I developed an addiction to the game last weekend. If you haven’t explored the site yet, or if you want to see it through the eyes, or lens rather, of a woman, here you go.

***

I lost my ChatRoulette virginity on Friday night. After drinks at Burp Castle in the East Village and a big bowl of ginger-scallion noodles and fatty pork buns at Momofuku’s noodle bar, I came home full and not yet ready for bed. So I decided to give the site — that I had already written about — a try.

I donned red over-sized, goofy sunglasses with stars on them. Both because the site of first impressions rewards gimmicks to start conversations, and because I wanted to browse incognito. Even knowing I would be paired with anonymous strangers, I felt slightly uneasy and the glasses provided protection.

ChatRoulette has a very basic homepage. You click “Play” to get started, and you’re immediately connected with a stranger. When you want to find a new stranger, you click the “Next” button. There’s video, audio, and a chat box. Some people choose to disable video and audio.

I did not stumble across a single penis on this first night, though I’ve heard they are there in abundance. There were many men, though, in dark rooms, usually smoking. I tended to next them quickly.

Next: A group of people getting ready to go out in a dorm room with loud music at a college somewhere.

Next: A short but substantive conversation with a father and son in Chevy Chase outside of Washington, D.C. The son almost nexted me when I said I went to Duke. He’s a UVA frosh, typed the dad, who wears hipster glasses and a smoking jacket and looks like he would fit into a Wes Anderson movie. They ask me where I am, what I do. I tell them I used to live in D.C. and moved away because I was tired of it, and tell them why. We say goodbye.

Next: A rare woman: long blonde hair with a green shirt. Over the course of the weekend, I came across women 1 out of 20 times. She nexts me.

Next: A teenage boy who makes inappropriate gestures simulating oral sex. I next him.

Next: A pair of 20-somethings see me and say “pretty girl.” I next them.

Next: A teenage boy in a computer-generated jungle motif. I laugh, and am done.

***

The next day, I return with my friend Sophia. I don the glasses again as does she. Paired with another person, I’m more immature, less serious about the endeavor. It reminded me of roaming AOL chat rooms with my best friend Lauren as a middle schooler. Lauren and I would pretend to be people we were not. We got into quite a few raunchy conversations, and would end them by telling our chat partner that he had in fact been talking to a 65-year-old man, which would disgust them and leave them disturbed, we imagined. My mom once found a transcript of one of our conversations, and she was very disturbed.

Sophia and I talked to a man in Paris, another one in a dark room smoking. We told him he should give it up, and that smoking is not allowed in America. Then we nexted him.

We took the New York Times T magazine with a photo of Julianne Moore and held that up to the camera. At one point we were confronted with a young beautiful girl, which surprised us. She seemed distracted and did not respond to us. “That’s not a real person,” we said. And then the camera zoomed out to reveal that it is actually a YouTube video. It disturbed us for some reason. We hit next.

We surfed into a room with a lofted bed, and a boy brushing his teeth. He sneers at us. We nexted him.

It’s less fun to play in the afternoon, even if it’s night for some of our European partners. I opted to go to the gym instead.

***

We’re drawn back again Sunday; we sit on my couch, surfing separately on our Macs.

Sophia comes across a boy who looks a lot like Justin Bieber, and we joke with him about the resemblance.

Then I surf into a room with a boy who bears enough of a resemblance to Taylor Lautner for me to claim it. Then we face our computers toward each other to bring the worlds together. Justin gets out a cigarette – we admonish him for smoking given his teen idol status – but he can’t find a lighter.

Taylor says wait a minute and disappears and we think he will soon next us. But instead he returns with a lighter and holds that close to the camera. And this seems brilliant to us. And we realize it can’t really get any better than that so we say goodbye to them and we sign off.

But then hours later, we are back again. Two teenage boys tell us that we look old enough to be their mothers and that I look like the mother from Weeds — maybe I look a little like Mary Louise-Parker when I wear sunglasses. We next them.

Sophia stumbles into a penis being licked by a dog. She screams, and closes her computer.

Sophia has worse ChatRoulette luck than me. She later connects to a young boy, who writes a note saying, “Show boobies.” And we tell him he’ll never get a girlfriend if he treats women like that. Next.

We finally have a decent conversation with two 19-year-old boys in England, who are drinking pints of beer. They are in Cambridge. It is midnight there. One of them has just gotten home from working at a nightclub. We joke and say we are also in Cambridge (Massachusetts). And they’re like, no way. And we admit that we’re actually in New York. We say they look younger than 19 and one shows us his driver’s license. It’s impossible to read, but it disturbs me that someone would be displaying their license on ChatRoulette.

We joke about accents. We joke about British vs. American culture. They are playing a ChatRoulette drinking game that has already developed on Facebook. They want to play the “age game” with us, in which they will guess our age, and for every year they are away from our actual age, they have to drink a finger’s worth of beer. They underguessed our age by a good five years, and wind up finishing their pints.

One of them — Christian — was very quiet. The other — Bradley — was very talkative. I told them Christian seemed like the quiet drummer of their twosome. “He is a drummer,” says Bradley, surprised. They are in a band and send us to their MySpace page, and we talk about their music. Their band is named for a dead fox they came across on the side of the road.

The conversation is actually fun and seemingly normal, and lasted probably 20 minutes. But then Bradley disappeared and when he came back, he pulled down his pants and spread his buttcheeks for the camera. It was bizarre and unexpected, in part because they had already told us so much about themselves. We nexted them for that.

We came across a young boy in Connecticut. He had just turned 17. So we sang happy birthday to him, and then we signed off.

***

Overall, I’m a big fan of the site. I understand now why it’s gotten so popular so quickly. It’s reminiscent of AOL chat rooms, but far more intimate in a way, as you’re actually invited into someone’s home. You see where they live and what they look like, which makes the obfuscation of who you are much more difficult.

News organizations are already starting to write about how it’s a dangerous place for children. Fox called it a “predator’s paradise.” Indeed, kids surfing the site aren’t going to be able to avoid seeing a penis or two… or ten. And it’s easy to reveal more about yourself than you realize.

Sophia easily found Bradley on Facebook and, to my surprise, given the buttcheek incident, she friended him. He accepted her Friendship request, and to my greater surprise, expressed shock that she’d been able to find him.


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  1. collapse expand

    I am now going to move into a cave and write with a quill pen by candlelight. Maybe even rush-light. This post makes me feel 1000000000000 years old, so I might as well get out the old mammoth-fur loincloth and get on with communicating in the ways that still make me feel safe, valued and comfortable.

    This morning — forgive my antiquated, old-school ways — I spoke by phone to someone in Arizona, someone with whom I had not communicated (a source on a great story) since 2006. I will go out in an hour and drive 30 minutes to have lunch across a table in a restaurant with a dear friend of seven years’ standing. These are ways of relating to others, some of whom I know well, some of whom I know not at all, that work for me.

    It is clearly generational. I want, need and insist upon boundaries, if not physical, then those of respect.

    The behaviors you describe make me feel almost physically ill. That’s my issue, clearly, not yours — I do not mean here to criticize you or your enthusiasm and I appreciate you sharing this story.

    But the bizarre sudden sexuality/crudeness of these moments strikes me as ugly and creepy and extremely aggressive, no matter what format it takes. If a man, mid-date in front of you, whipped out his genitals or bared his ass, would this be acceptable or funny? Likely not.

    Ohhhhh, where are my smelling salts?

  2. collapse expand

    Can I ask why this interests you? I know we are very different in age and outlook, and I am trying to understand — as are others — the appeal of essentially “browsing” strangers. As I said, the element of social disinhibition is, for me, deeply repellent. I’m not as stuffy and boring as this surely makes me sound, but how does it make you feel when someone — especially male — suddenly shifts from friendly to ugly/inappropropriate?

    Have other human beings become simply one more cable channel of amusement, their very real behaviors something to laugh af and swiitcb off? What notion of responsibility to one another (none?) is there here?

    At yesterday’s lunch my friend, 42, loved the idea of talking to random people globally, as I do, but we are both unwilling to quite literally expose ourselves to psychos. The appeal escapes us both.

    • collapse expand

      As I wrote above, it makes me feel disturbed when the stranger on the other side of the camera does something inappropriate. But not every interaction on the site is like that.

      As for why ChatRoulette interests me, I would say simple human curiosity. Just as in “real life,” sometimes you encounter very interesting, thoughtful people and sometimes you encounter people you can’t stand. What’s nice in ChatRoulette is that you can just hit “Next” when you come across the latter.

      In response to another comment. See in context »
  3. collapse expand

    I would be too scared to go on chatroulette. I can only imagine the things that would pop up (no pun intended).I like your retelling of your adventures on it. It is fun to read.

  4. collapse expand

    I must be “lucky” because I got a penis right on the first at “bat”…. yikes.

    I find this site fascinating, but as a man, I seem to have much less interesting stuff to see and guys are much less willing to just talk.

    I for one would think this would offer greater anonymity than one would think. Sites like intelius, heck even Equifax, or other sites that one can pay to get background/credit information are much more frightening to me because I have so much less control in that situation.

  5. collapse expand

    The chatroulette competitior has arrived, http://www.Vtring.com.
    Check it out

  6. collapse expand

    I see Chatroulette as a breakthrough in making the world a smaller more peaceful place made possible through direct communication. Much like the telegraph & mail courier service in the 1800’s…some form of chatroulette will evolve and be very influential in the future. The first car doesn’t resemble todays cars and neither will chatroulette in its evolved state. To judge it on what it is today is myopic to what it could become. People who judge this venue might as well think that a baby never becomes an adult through painful learning. Give the site the award for a fresh take on direct communication without politicians as middlemen and let it mature like a fine wine.

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    I am a writer, reporter, editor and blogger. I'm an editor at Above The Law, where I blog about lawyers, judges, law firms and the legal industry. Here at True/Slant, I write about our changing notions of privacy.

    If you have story ideas or tips, e-mail me at kashhill@trueslant.com. I've hung out in quite a few newsrooms over the last few years. Currently, I can be found in Breaking Media's Nolita office. In the past, I've been found in midtown Manhattan at The Week Magazine, in Hong Kong at the International Herald Tribune, and in D.C. at the National Press Foundation and the Washington Examiner.

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