ChatRoulette Makes the Internet Seem New Again...and Creepier Than Ever

Remember back when you got your first dial-up connection and the thrill of exploring the new and wild online jungle? It's okay, we can't either. But a new site, ChatRoulette, manages to revive that greenhorn spirit... at the expense of some seriously creepy voyeurism. [via switched]

In a fascinating article for New York Magazine, Sam Anderson documents his own ride through ChatRoulette, a site straight out of 'Infinite Jest' that allows users to vid chat with a random selection of "strangers." Most interactions last mere seconds, and the male-to-female ratio is scarily imbalanced. A great deal of the experiences, of course, are bizarre, perverted, and downright depressing. A few, though, end up being strangely enjoyable, even if they last only a few, fleeting seconds -- a dancing old man here, a card trick there, and, of course, the occasional meaningful conversation. Think of it like speed dating, or speed meeting, for the ADD-addled generation.

We spent about 10 minutes on the site ourselves, and we should warn you: click at your own risk. Some of the things we saw, much like what Anderson witnessed, may have scarred us for life. The apparent disregard for age limits or user behavior may actually prove to be ChatRoulette's undoing; all it takes, really, is one creep to link up with one curious 12-year old, and the site will surely be entangled in a fatal lawsuit.

It's exactly this lawlessness, though, that makes ChatRoulette so intriguing. It hearkens back to a digital dawn when the Internet seemed new, when we felt like an intrepid Fievel going West every time we dialed up and logged on. Somewhere along the line, we lost that sense of adventure -- probably whenever we decided to circle the wagons and live blissfully among our own privacy-protected coterie of online friends. ChatRoulette pulls us out of our digital cocoons, and forces us not only to explore an unbridled landscape, but to do so together. It's this weird sense of communal exploration that left the most memorable impression on us. Sure, there are some truly depressing, lonely images that flash on your screen, and definitely disturbing ones, too. But, at the most basic level, everyone "playing" ChatRoulette (or at least everyone from the neck up) seems to wear the same expression of awkward trepidation. As a social experiment, at least, ChatRoulette makes the Internet seem "new" again -- paradoxically by making it feel old.

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