Last spring I discovered and blogged about a website called Omegle (Parts I and II) that was still relatively new to the internet. On it, you are randomly connected to a stranger somewhere in the world and invited to chat with them. At the time, I thought it was one of the most novel and brilliant ideas that had hit the web in years--a place for bored (and more often than not, horny) people to go and find someone just as bored (though unlikely as horny) to entertain themselves with. But as great as the site still remains for what it's worth, we have officially reached the end of the internet.
Enter: ChatRoulette. I found out about this site last night, and a subsequent article from New York Magazine (that managed to move seamlessly from talking about porn to referencing Walt Whitman--impressive) hot on its heels. It seems the site has only been around for a few months, launching just earlier this winter. But last night when I logged on around midnight, there were over sixteen thousand other users--more than triple what Omegle averaged at any given moment. But why? What could possibly bring people in the droves to this brand-new site (that translates, accidentally of course, to "CatWheel" in French)?
Much like Omegle, it randomly connects the user to a stranger somewhere around the world. Completely unlike Omegle, it engages your computer's microphone. And webcam. As you cycle through random people all around the world, you find yourself staring right at them. In their rooms. Often without pants. That part I can't exactly figure out. See, the users of ChatRoulette are overwhelmingly male, and there is a cross-section of them who are eternally whackin' it on screen, showing off their man-meat to anyone cycling through. I just don't understand their approach. Just like in Omegle, this service can easily be used for pornin'--but guys, if you wanna get your jollies with some sexy lady from across the sea, you might not want to introduce yourself with a paw around your yogurt-slinger. You gotta schmooze! This is like a virtual bar! Buy her a drink, don't just saunter up to her and unzip!
ChatRoulette is the most surreal experience on the internet--quite possibly in my entire life--that I have ever had. I only lasted fractions of a second with most other users, owing to the fact that I am not a girl, but on the ones where I'd last longer, and actually start talking to the people on the other end, it was almost more weird. I quickly became desensitized to the hundreds of penises and tens of frat guys flipping the bird that populated the site, and my brain all but turned off as I was cycled through by bored looking guys and the occasional junior high-aged girls who had nothing to say to me. But when I lasted more than the typical half-second with a couple of hipsters from Alabama, I wasn't even sure what to do. My parents were asleep, so I had my microphone off and I typed with them for a little bit. But it all felt so intrusive that I finally hit the "NEXT" button myself, sending me back into the maelstrom of dicks, sad-faced college kids and giggling girls who just weren't that into my face. Apparently.
Of course, there are some normals on there. I talked to a guy who was originally from Pittsburgh who thought I looked like Matthew Broderick. And a girl from Australia who was in college and liked Air and might even be reading this blog right now. They might be few and far between, but they make it all worth it. To connect with people like that. It's amazing. It's everything the internet is and should be, and at the same time, everything we've been warned about the internet becoming. The NY Mag article asks if this is "the future of the internet, or its distant past." I think neither. This is the end. This has achieved all that the internet has ever hoped for, but done so in the most frighteningly intriguing way possible. I am only glad that I got to witness this kind of thing in my lifetime. It's brilliant and horrifying, and one of the best things I've ever seen.
Maybe I'll see you on there. Don't worry, even if you don't know me, you'll recognize me. I'll be the guy with his pants on.