I did it. I finally tried ChatRoulette.
There is nothing new about anonymous online chatting, but with added webcams, no required username or any other type of identifying information, this site did seem a bit different.
I must admit, I was too afraid to enter the website alone, especially after hearing so many horror stories of interactions with very unusual people. Not to mention, a website dedicated to video chatting with random strangers has little appeal to me in the first place. So, I had a friend join me in the conversation. We set up the video camera on his computer, and logged in.
I was surprised by the simplicity of the website layout. There are two video areas - one where you can see yourself, and one where you can see who you are chatting with. There is a chat box for text dialogue and there is a button where you click "next" when you want to start a chat with someone new.
The website was simple. My emotional response was not.
Who knew there could be so many different feelings associated with video chatting?
Even after we logged in, I was a bit camera shy. I actually insisted that my face not be seen on the screen, and tilted the camera towards my friend the whole time. Unfortunately, we did come across some of the people using the site for inappropriate reasons, but I suppose that is a hazard when you create a site like this - allowing users so much freedom. When we came across somebody being inappropriate we “F9’d” them (we clicked next to connect to the next user). I did not think much of this action, until it happened to us. On several occasions, we were F9’d by other users, and sometimes after only a few seconds of chatting. In two or three incidents we were F9’d before we even began chatting, just based on our appearance alone.
My feelings were actually hurt by these strangers! I found myself angry at times, when users would end the conversation mid sentence, as if I had nothing interesting to say. At one point, we ended the conversation with someone who was typing too slowly. About 10 minutes later, we entered a chat with that very same person (what are the chances!) and decided to give him another try. However, that time, he F9’d us! I guess that’s karma?
Scared. Angry. Mad. Sad. Ultimately, what did I walk away with from my ChatRoulette experience? Nothing.
This type of website makes me worry for the future of interpersonal relationships. I appreciate very much the opportunities social media provides me to stay connected with friends, family, co-workers, acquaintances, and so forth. However, I find this use of technology lacking. In my opinion, there is something very different about chatting with someone who displays information about themselves, like a name or location as you would find talking to someone on Twitter, as opposed to talking to someone with absolutely no identifying information. It is difficult for me to understand why anybody would spend time chatting with total strangers - people you may have nothing in common with, and may never see again. Why not instead, spend time focusing on building connections with the real people you can form relationships with – people you may have met, may meet someday, have something in common with, can get in touch with on a regular basis, etc..
As technology enters our lives and becomes a part of our existing relationships, is it driving us apart?
I am glad I finally got to see what ChatRoulette is all about, but I think I will stick to my usual round of social media sites for now.