Chatroulette – The Latest In Internet Voyeurism
By Jennifer Allen
ChatRoulette is the latest in a string of internet applications to quickly go viral. Attracted by anonymity and the option to quickly skip to the next user, ChatRoulette offers its users a quick glimpse at a variety of people doing a variety of things.
Man has long been attracted by the ‘peep-show’ concept, whereby you can catch a glimpse of something forbidden, risqué or even morally questionable. ChatRoulette is an updated version of the peep show, and the concept is practically as simple. Located at your computer you log in to the ChatRoulette website and hit play. That’s it. No registering, no logging in or transmission of sensitive information. Just hit the play button and your screen flashes to some random person located who-knows-where doing…well, they could be doing just about anything.
Enter the allure of ChatRoulette. Their website says that they do not allow any sort of obscene or pornographic material to be broadcast and that users who do so can be blocked from using the site. However, there’s no moderation other than the viewer hitting the report user function. So if the draw is to see something unscripted, unanticipated and even perhaps morally questionable, why would one report such behavior?
Already tens of thousands of viewers can be found online using this program at any given time. It has become so popular that captured video and screenshots of strange behaviors are viewable both on YouTube as well as blogs and websites dedicated to cataloging these moments of weirdness. Of course the website also stipulates that you need to be 16 years of age to use the site, but again there’s no registration and no moderation. And it is not unlikely to find somebody doing something that will offend you but all you need to do is click ‘next’ to move on to the next in an unending stream of people looking for an audience or an anonymous connection.
The founder of this site is a 17 year old internet and programming genius from Moscow. Andrey Ternovskiy admits to having coded the site himself and it likely won’t be long before this application is scooped up and incorporated into giants such as Facebook or MySpace.
Regardless of your motivations, be they curiosity, voyeurism, boredom or just feeling a need to connect with the larger world around you, skipping past the myriad people out there certainly does give one the sense of being part of something larger. And the draw, for many, is addictive and insatiable. Already there are cases of people admitting to being addicted to the gamble of seeing something that touches that inner self where fascination, horrification and even mortification lie in wait to be stimulated.
Of course the platform of an internet peep-show is going to lure and encourage the worst of us but there’s a kind of safety in being able to click ‘next’ and move on to the next glimpse. This is what makes ChatRoulette so tempting; the user is in complete control and even though there is usually a shocking lack of voice chatting, a picture does speak a thousand words and sometimes we can’t hit the ‘next’ button fast enough.