As an avid watcher of the Daily Show, I watched this week when Jon Stewart “investigated” Chatroulette. For those of you blissfully unaware of this impertinent corner of the online universe, Chatroulette is a Web site in which you get on your Web cam and are randomly matched with someone else on their Web cam. It’s an anonymity-loving paradise, except that, as Jon showed, it’s mostly filled with horny middle-aged men. And reporters looking to find out what the story is.
I wanted to know if that was the beginning, middle, and end of the whole thing, so I fired up my built-in Web cam and I moseyed on up to the Wild Wild Web. Okay, I don’t have to fire it up, it’s just automatic because it’s a Mac, but whatever. I sallied up and got ready for some roulettin’ good time. I will say I was annoyed by my camera, because to be able to see my screen is to have it aimed at a really unflattering angle for my face. But I need to see my screen, so double chin it was.
My first random assignment was . . . a black screen. And yet Chatroulette was telling me to feel free to start talking. Talking? To what? This was weird, too weird. Was it talk therapy? A technical glitch? A–and suddenly, my “partner” disconnected from me and hopped to the next shuffled cammer.
Cammer? Okay, I was a fish in a frying pan with a pool of spilled milk next to me. I was a mess of metaphor. No sooner had I been bumped by the first person than I was wham-blam bumped two more times in extremely rapid succession by other people I barely even saw! Gee, maybe my ego isn’t ready for this, I wondered. It was rapid-fire rejection! After 18 months of job rejection, and 7 months of query letters to agents rejection, could I take this? Was I up for this?
Of course I was! It’s Chatroulette! I steadied myself as the computer hunted for another random assignment. What’s taking so long, I wanted to know. And then, out of the darkness, came. . .
A bald man, with furrowed brow, staring very closely at his screen. I could have sited good places for hair plugs on his scalp. I disconnected. I! I took the power, my power, into my own hands and clicked next! Banished, middle aged staring man! Next up, a bald man? And another. And another.
You know, there was a mid-semester fall break that I took my sophomore year of college, and to save on gas I gave a couple of people a ride back with me. One of them lived in central Pennsylvania, so it wasn’t very far out of the way between Syracuse and New Jersey, but it was unfamiliar enough that I didn’t really know my way around there. I dropped her off and had one more friend in the car, who lived in Clinton, NJ. We tried to find our way back to the highway, but we’d gotten lost and just as I was certain we’d been riding in circles, we spotted a restaurant of the Pennsylvania/New Jersey variety. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, it’s a low building with 70s-era brownish brick, big industrial windows and a bakery counter at the register. The only thing not making it a proper diner was the lack of polished chrome and the absence of tableside jukeboxes. It was that kind of restaurant. And even though it was late, it was open, with ten million cars in the parking lot. We walked in to the front, relieved that we could be back on our way soon, until we saw who was in there.
Every single person other than the hostess was a middle aged bald man. 250 bald men.
It’s not a bald thing, really. I’m losing my hair; I know I’ll be among them someday. If they were all blue I would have been just as rattled. Or wearing the same clothes, whatever.
I whispered to the hostess that I needed to find the highway. She wrote down directions for me. I leaned in and asked if this was a convention group.
“How’d ya guess,” she asked me, blandly, chomping on her gum and looking at me like I was the stupidest person she’d ever seen. Not only was I driving around with no idea that the highway was three roads away, but I couldn’t even put it together that the bald convention was meeting here. Sheesh.
We left quickly, agreeing that we should never speak of the experience again. And apparently I have left Georgette in the dust on that one. Sorry, Georgette.
Anyway, maybe the bald men of America have moved into the 21st Century and are now meeting on Chatroulette.
I clicked again, and there it was, a man and his little man. And I mean little. I moved on quickly, hoping to rid my retinas of the sight in short [sic] order.
Three teenage girls sipping at drinks obviously procured at 7-11, giggling. Perhaps they’d just seen what I’d just seen. I made a mental note that any future teenage girls in my household will not have access to Chatroulette. Maybe the Web will be gone by then.
A very fat woman in a light blue bra and matching panties. The moment my face came into view on her screen she began jumping up and down. I clicked next.
Someone had put a Jesus bobblehead figurine on his desk and left the camera there. I heard myself laugh on his computer.
Along the line somewhere, I had drifted into performance art. I tried to look behind me to see the bend I’d gone around.
Another wanker. He and I clicked next at the same time. I wondered who he was looking for. Those giggling girls, I guessed. That thought made me frown, and my next “partner” saw it and typed, “why the sad face,” before they clicked next. It was a rhetorical question, apparently.
Two teenage guys lying on someone’s bed, looking bored. I suspect they were gamers, because they next’ed me faster than anyone else.
A whole room of young women. I waved and clicked next. I was too intimidated!
Another blank screen. Again, what am I supposed to do here, I asked myself. “Hello? Are you there?” No response. Okay, that was just creepy.
Two teen boys again, one in profile. I could hear that they were getting yelled at by a female authority figure, probably because they were on Chatroulette.
I exited the screen, having had enough of all that.
On Twitter I had posted that I’d checked out Chatroulette and sure enough, five minutes later I had three Chatroulette-affiliated friends following my Twitter account. One of these led to some funny screen captures of the way two random chatters can juxtapose in funny ways: two people dressed as Jesus (so maybe Jesus is a thing on the site?), one person dressed as a cop while a wanker looks rather afraid, a person playing air guitar and someone looking like some approximation of Jimi Hendrix.
As a cultural text, it could be interesting. As a way to chat with people, well, I didn’t actually “chat” with anyone. I learned no names, knew any of their stories, and really, I didn’t care to know. But wow, there are a lot of lonely guys out there. I’d say it warranted some evaluation by the government, but I don’t care that much.