Thursday, March 11, 2010


Thoughts on Chatroulette, and why I think it is the most fascinating internet phenomenon:

-Forward motion – Chatroulette’s linearity is exclusively forward. There is no opportunity to go back, no way to ‘trace one’s steps’. Further, there is no archive (as far as we know).

-Screen shots – You may exist on someone’s desktop in Paris – like globalized phenomenon of being in the background of strangers’ photographs.

-Running into people – When will you run into friends? Parents? Celebrities? This possibility creates a more tangible and imaginable idea of cyberspace: a street on which one can ‘run into’ an acquaintance.

-Self esteem – Who ‘nexts’ whom first? And how much time will pass before it’s okay to next someone – how awkward will the conversation get/how will you end it/how will you say bye and why do you feel like you have to? You’ll never see this person again so why is etiquette implied? It’s inevitable that being ‘nexted’ carries an element of pain: my roommates and I have heard everything from ‘you’re beautiful take off your shirts’ to ‘you are the ugliest girls on the planet, why are you even alive?’ Yet why subject ourselves to this? I think it’s because one can learn a lot about oneself from the way one interacts with the site, especially while alone. How weird are you willing to get? Will you perform normal small talk and get to know other users? Will you scream into the camera? How loud will you be? At what angle will you hold the camera? Will you fix your hair or put on makeup? Do you care whether you look attractive on the screen if there is absolutely no social gravity to these interactions?

-Voyeurism as a two way concept – Chatroulette is the perfect forum for fetishizing the gaze of the Other: people have sex with their computers on the site; they know someone will be watching. Has anyone been raped on Chatroulette yet? Killed? Committed suicide? It could constitute the perfect crime: guarantee of being witnessed yet infinitely small possibility of being caught.

-Creating a panoptic society – How does one know that the site isn’t keeping your webcam on, broadcasting even while you think you’ve left the site? If you think about this possibility, does it change the way you act in front of your computer? If a society ‘internalizes the possibility of Chatroulette’s gaze’ our physical and mental interactions with our computers would change.

-How can one use Chatroulette as a creative outlet? – What if one choreographed/scripted a performance and performed it in front of a computer connected to Chatroulette, never pressing ‘next’? It could be broadcast to hundreds of viewers, or to only a couple – the number would depend wholly on the viewers’ opinion of the performance – yet inversely to what we know now: the more a person liked it, the fewer viewers it would reach.

-Two way window – The interface of Chatroulette, and the computer screen itself, can be thought of as a window. A window separates public from private, yet almost everyone on the site is either in their bed, living room or kitchen, private, comfortable, safe spaces. One is rarely seen outside, in a public or even in a crowded space. The interaction is particularly private – creating a two way window that does not separate private from public, but that separates private from other private.

-by Emily Martin for Matt's section

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