If you're looking for one of the most ingenious uses for the Interwebs that's come along in the last three years, look no further than Chatroulette (Caution: do not go look at Chatroulette). This video chat service that allows users to spin a virtual wheel and connect with a random stranger anywhere in the world with the ability to instantly spin said wheel again to leave them behind should, theoretically, be a fascinating way to connect, learn, and discover new people, places, and cultures.
But if you're looking for a rock-solid definition of the lowest common denominator of our one-world society, or more specifically, if you're looking for an endless stream of random male junk, and who isn't, then Chatroulette is exactly what you're looking for.
Oh, by the way, this column is not for the kids. Kids, stop reading. Go read Seanbaby. Sorry to be so late with the warning.
I had heard about Chatroulette and the sordid nature of what you could expect to find there. I don't know what else I expected to find, but the technology aspect of it fascinated me. I see it akin to teleportation, being able to instantly transport across the country or across the world, and get a look at what other people are up to. Like - "What's going on in China right now?"
And yeah, I guess it's a little bit voyeuristic.
Turns out it's a lot more than just a little bit voyeuristic.
I should start out by admitting that as technically astute as I have been in my lifetime, what with the Commodore 64 and all that, I've never, ever been a fan of chat. This goes all the way back to text based chat rooms, and includes texting, instant messaging, and skyping.
I hate these forms of communication even more than I hate the phone. And I hate the phone. I'm a face-to-face guy first, then a social media guy, then an email guy (and I'm even starting to hate email). I loathe being on the hook to say the next thing that needs to be said in order to move the conversation forward if I'm not face to face. I love people. I just can't think on my feet without visual cues.
Turns out you don't need this skill in Chatroulette anyway, because 80% of the people you wind up being teleported to just want you to look at their junk. They don't care what you have to say.
In two separate sessions on Chatroulette, I learned several things. And by the way, I did this for you and I've seen a lot of things I'm never going to unsee.
You owe me.
1) Certain times of day are mostly junk-free
If you get on during the day (in the US, remember, it's always night time somewhere), and if you set the safe mode to "I don't want to see any junk whatsoever," you'll only see a little bit of junk.
If you get on after 8:00 p.m. EST, it's pretty much a parade of junk.
2) Be suspicious
If someone's bio says - "Wait! Don't next me girl! I just want to ask you a question" - that question is most likely "Would you like to see my junk?"
3) Europeans really are more progressive
I don't think I ever saw a clothed European male on Chatroulette.
4) Guys think girls want to see their junk
And I'm not saying this like it should have been the first point of this list, based on the vast amount, but if you read the bios and stuff, you'll see guys offering to show girls their junk. To me, this is like girls offering guys to yell at them about mowing the lawn during the game. Excuse the sexism, I'm only reporting what I'm trying hard not to look at.
5) Guys don't want other guys looking at their junk
As noted by the vast amount of "Girls only" and "No gays" (in several different languages, I might add) in those same bios. There's something inherently stupid, however, about waving it around like that and being so adamant about who should be looking at it.
6) I need some sort of Internet lockout software. Stat.
My kids don't have access to a computer yet. There are a LOT of kids on Chatroulette, some with their parents there with them. This is pretty much when I decided this was a lost cause. I just kept getting angrier and angrier. Joke's over.
And that's my takeaway from this awful experiment. The Internet has always been pushed to new and cool technologies by porn, gambling, and advertising, in that order. As much as we'd like to think that the web has a place in overthrowing dictatorships, providing emergency communications, and raising money for causes and startups and dreams, it's easy to forget that the web is also about selling things, usually filthy things, to vast amounts of people in the most efficient manner possible.
Facebook is a giant marketing database.
Google is the world's largest advertiser.
Email has been rendered nearly useless and bloated by spam.
Governments are using the web to sell more lottery tickets quicker.
But this isn't news. In technology, we go from cutting edge to adoption to commoditization in a heartbeat, and then it gets ruined (or enhanced, as your wont may be) by porn, gambling, and advertising.
Chatroulette is just a special case because it ran the whole cycle in about five minutes.
I shudder to think what we'll end up doing with the time machine and the invisibility cloak.
Joe Procopio trades in pop culture and tech culture, allowing him to poke fun at so many things. He's written for a number of online and offline publications from the late, lamented Smug to the fancy-pants Chicago Tribune and also for television. He's a novelist, a shredder, a joker, and a family man. Scoff at joeprocopio.com or follow on Twitter @jproco.
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IF YOU LIKED THIS COLUMN...
6.1.12 @ 3:38p
Hats off to you, Intrepid's own brave and courageous tech hero!
6.9.12 @ 11:55p
Rakishly cool. Also, the word junk gets funnier with each reading.
6.20.12 @ 12:04a
A pleasure to read and a bit disturbing as a parent with no parental controls except the occassional glance over my shoulder followed by "what are you doing on the computer?" If it's meant to be a wake up call, it falls short. Russ was ever so lassez faire about adding security that it's become a way of life to ignore all need for it. The computer and all - well, I hope not all, it has to offer is now firmly planted forever as a way of connecting with Dad. He loved you guys!
7.11.12 @ 1:00a
Just laughed my ass off. Seriously, no one needs to see that much junk. Ever.
7.12.12 @ 10:28a