Monday, February 7, 2011

Blog #3: ChatRoulette

This was a really interesting experience for me, as I’d used ChatRoulette a lot last year with my friends while bored in the Freshman dorms during the winter. The difference is we used it mostly to joke around and entertain ourselves and those who we came in contact with, whereas this time I was looking to use it simply to meet people/study the ChatRoulette culture.

The first thing I noticed when I went to the site was that the layout was different. They had added some sleek-looking wallpaper and made the video boxes smaller. I wonder if their growing popularity added to that decision. Perhaps they needed smaller video boxes to handle the amount of activity on their networks. The videos also seemed to connect and scan a lot quicker/smoother than they did before. The aesthetic change certainly makes for a more personal, almost intimate setting. I also notice a lot less X-rated material than there once was. I suppose the screening and reporting system has been improved since my last visit.

When I first hit “Scan” I was immediately connected with a rather large, rugged looking man, who instantly clicked “Next”. I was then transferred to another man, followed by three or four more. Each time they would appear, they would click “Next” right away. At first I found this odd. But then when I was finally connected with an old-looking man who was just staring and not pressing “Next”, I felt compelled to do the same, myself. I suspect most of these men were simply looking for women, something entertaining or were just curious as to what the website is all about. I then pressed “Stop”, overwhelmed by the experience. I tried again. Almost the exact same result: men of different ages sitting by themselves staring blankly and remaining silent.

Discontent with the responses I was receiving I decided to take a new approach: I decided to smile and excitedly greet people the moment we connected. Not one person responded or engaged me in conversation. Perhaps I came off too strong. Then in a final attempt I decided to begin to freestyle rap, something I like to do in my free time. I noticed that people were staying a lot longer this time, though most wound up hitting “Next” eventually without much response just the same. One man I was connected with was already having his own fun when we were connected, spastically jumping around and tossing his head to and fro like crazy. Equally unphased/amused, I continued to rap and he continued to move energetically. This went on for a long while and it was clear neither of us were going to hit “Next” anytime soon. Suddenly my phone rang and I unfortunately had to end our connection.

Overall, when I first started this experiment, I thought it was so bizarre that all these people would just sit in front of their computers staring silently and clicking “Next” if something didn’t pique their interest instantly. Then I realized I was doing the exact same thing. Of course I was doing it more as a scholastic experiment, but in a sense I think maybe everyone using ChatRoulette is essentially experimenting. I believe that’s the phase we’re in now. We have this technology that can basically now put any person in the world face-to-face with anyone else, but we have no idea what to do with it or the overall significance of its possibilities. Personally, even though I wasn’t able to have a meaningful conversation with anyone, I was pleased that I was able to have some sort of connection with someone: two strangers entertaining one another and at the very least, trying to do something different on a platform where it seems most people don’t have any clue what to do at all.

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