We’ve hit the ‘next’ disturbing social interaction

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by admin on July 21, 2010

By Nikki Mantell

Hey parents, it’s 12 a.m., do you know where your children are on the chatroulette lineup?
For those poor country-bumpkin readers who just managed to figure out what YouTube, MySpace and Facebook were all about, there is a yet another new social networking site ready to hit your home computer.
Pairing up the World Wide Web’s freedom of chatting online with anyone from anywhere, and the randomness of the gambling game, chatroulette.com is the next thing to make you utter the words: “I have no idea what is going on, anymore.” (Or, as the younger and more succinct members of your family might put it: “WTF!”)
The concept itself is pretty simple: when you log on, two boxes come on the screen. One shows your own image courtesy of your webcam, the other is for the face of a complete stranger, courtesy their webcam. When a stranger, or a “partner” as chatroullette calls it, appears on your screen, you can chat using your voice or keyboard. Or you can hit the infamous “next” button and skip to someone else.
Sounds nice, doesn’t it? Finding friendship on the other side of the world?
It’s not. In fact, it’s one of the most disturbing social interactions I’ve ever experienced.
I had my first (and last) chatroulette experience in Toronto, where I found out it has become the newest entertainment sideshow at urbanite parties.
Five of us logged on as a group (safety in numbers) and nervously giggled and clicked our way through face after face. That sweaty guy with the monobrow. “Quick, hit next!” The boring-looking old dude. “Next.” Then it was our turn. We heard an “ugh” and a “who are those weird people?” Next. Next.
It’s unnerving to have a stranger dismiss you in a millisecond; the “nexting” (yes, it’s entered the lexicon as a verb) happens as rapid-fire as an Xbox shooting game. For anyone who’s dated online, imagine the rejecting/rejection triple-speed, live, and with audio.
The New Yorker ran a long piece on chatroulette a couple of months back, extolling the virtues of the hugely popular site: lonely people who actually do find friends; the now-internet-sensation called “Catman” (look it up yourself); an indie band which launched its first album on chatroulette; and the hundreds of articles that debate whether the site is a fad or a good investment.
The U.K. daily, The Guardian, summed it up in numbers: “71% men, 15% women and 14% perverts.” Yes, Chatroulette is filled with wankers. As our Toronto party kept “nexting” our “partners,” every sixth person was a guy with no pants on. Usually they are masturbating (which probably explains why chatroulettians are “next” button trigger-happy).
In our ten-minute session, we came across a guy who had trained his webcam to show just the section from his nose to his knees. Why . . . why did someone decide to stand in front of his webcam in nothing but a too-short T-shirt and eat a bowl of cereal? And why did we find it so funny? I don’t now what was more disturbing – his lackadaisical exhibitionism or our mocking voyeurism.
Then came the sobering images: two teenage girls logging on during a slumber party. Again two girls, these ones looking like “tweens.” Then a boy who couldn’t be older than 10. The city party trick left me feeling nauseous.
Sure, it can be pretty amusing when a bunch of adults are “nexting” through weirdos at a party. But it’s definitely not the best way to get one’s first anatomy lesson. Worse: webcams go both ways.
For our rural readers who have yet to “get” high-speed Internet (literally or intellectually) here’s your warning: keep the kids far, far away from chatroulette.