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Plugged In: Chatroulette

Plugged In: Chatroulette
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With all the mainstream exposure, has Chatroulette remained the edgy, dangerous place we first heard about?

  Technical Terms and Technology

A recent Kinsey Institute survey discovered that “having sex” is a term with no ready definition: 89 percent of respondents only considered a penis in a vagina as “having sex” if ejaculation occurred. Anal sex and oral sex were also popular “not sex” activities. While I personally consider a much broader range of things as “sex” than the average survey respondent, the Chatroulette experience challenged where I drew my lines. I’d never considered professional pornography sites, even ones with live chat, as “sex”—it is enhanced masturbation, by my rules. I considered random sexy behaviors in text chat with strangers in a similar light.

But if I felt as nervous as I did face-to-face when talking to another “normal” person on video chat, what did that mean? If mutual masturbation on Chatroulette with video and audio chat wasn’t “sex,” did that mean mutual masturbation in person wasn’t “sex” either? If Chatroulette felt like crossing a line because it involved video, why was text any different?

Digging deeper, I learned more about the very crooked line I drew. Texting with someone was sex enough to be cheating, as was sexy instant messaging with a someone you know personally. Apparently, I felt that dicking around with strangers without touching them was okay, but dicking around with people I knew without touching them crossed a line. None of that explained why actually seeing a stranger in Chatroulette seemed to alter my perspective.

I’d always prided myself on logical, clear sexual boundaries—and now this!

Like every sweeping societal advance, technology eventually challenges us on every level of our interpersonal relationships. Even the most technophiliac of us need to check ourselves from time to time and make sure our boundaries are keeping up.

  If At First You Don’t Get Peen, Try, Try Again?

I ventured back into Chatroulette, determined to get some action. I zipped from one match to the next, sure that I would eventually stumble upon depravity. I mean, that’s what all the cautionary tales on network news and send-ups on The Daily Show were all about, right?

I got nothing. Bored guy after bored guy after bored guy, all fully clothed, all with their webcams trained on their faces. Nothing from the unofficial Chatroulette Bingo Card popped up on my screen. At first, I felt like the butt of a cruel prank—all this promise of startle-the-mainstream-horses depravity, and nothing but people just like me waiting for something to happen.

At last, it hit me: It isn’t just that technology creates sweeping social advances at light speed; social advances create changes in technology just as quickly. When Chatroulette hit the mainstream, it attracted not only attention but also a plethora of applications of its data. The Internet’s desire to archive the ephemeral resulted in almost instant websites dedicated to screenshots of awkward Chatroulette moments. The anonymity that encouraged users to drop trou despite Chatroulette’s toothless warning to keep it clean was shattered with the unveiling of chatroulettemaps.com, a service associating Chatroulette feeds with their attendant IP addresses on a startlingly accurate map interface.

How could anyone in their right mind pull their pud on Chatroulette these days, knowing that anyone matched to them might post a snarky screengrab for the world to see? How could lusty single ladies feel good about showing their tits for Haiti (or any other reason) while aware that any neighbor poking around on the mapping site could discover their nipple color?

  The Future of Chatroulette

As happens so often with interactive cultural phenomenons, the unique aspects that first drew attention to Chatroulette have now been diluted by a flurry of bystanders, voyeurs (myself included), uncertain curiosity seekers, and term-paper authors. The time-honored Internet tradition of early adopters bitching about various services suddenly becoming fashionable is in no danger of extinction, but Chatroulette may be. I can’t be the only one thinking that if Chatrroulette loses its sexy, kooky edge, I’d have more fun meeting dead-eyed strangers in person at a bar than killing my bandwidth to do it.

But if Chatroulette does nothing else, it serves as a wake-up call about anonymity, responsibility, and sexual boundaries—something we all desperately need. There’s always another quick-and-dirty way to hook up through technology right around the corner, and the better we’ve examined our boundaries as they relate to current methods, the easier it will be to adjust as technology outpaces our old standards.

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Comments

There is a joke that all the people on Chatroulette are reporters and journalists. I've never known anyone to actually use the site so I am inclined to believe. It's almost like a fake phenomenon

04/23/2010
elrique  

lol, they killed all the masturbators!

05/12/2012

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