The power of the next click...

Posted by Nishant Shah at Jun 17, 2010 11:20 AM |
P2P cameras and microphones hooked up to form a network of people who don't know each other, and probably don't care; a series of people in different states of undress, peering at the each other, hands poised on the 'Next' button to search for something more. Chatroulette, the next big fad on the internet, is here in a grand way, making vouyers out of us all. This post examines the aesthetics, politics and potentials of this wonderful platform beyond the surface hype of penises and pornography that surrounds this platform.

In his futuristic novel 1984, George Orwell conceived of a Big Brother who watches us all the time, tracking every move we make, every step we take, and reminding us that we are being watched. The Internet has often been seen as the embodiment of this fiction. There are many who unplug computers, look over surreptitious shoulders and wear tin-foil hats so that their movements cannot be traced. While this caricatured picture might seem absurd to funny, there is no denying the fact that we are being stalked by technologies. As our world gets more connected and our dependence on digital and internet objects grow, we are giving out more and more of our private and personal information for an easy trade-off with convenience and practicality.

As a reply to the question “Who watches the watchman?” several Internet theorists had suggested as a reply, a model where everybody looking at everybody else so that there is no one person who has exclusive powers of seeing without being seen. In this utopian state, people would be looking at each other (thus keeping a check on actions), looking after each other (forming virtual care networks) and looking for each other (building social networks with familiar strangers). After about 20 years of the first emergence of this discussion vis-à-vis the World Wide Web , comes an internet platform that produces a strange universe of people looking at.for.after each other in a condition of extreme vouyerism, performance, exhibitionism, surveillance and playfulness. It is a website that the Digital Natives are flocking to because it changes the way they look at each other. Literally.

Chatroulette! is a new MMORPG  (Massively Multiple Online Role Playing Game) that uses a Peer-2-Peer network to constantly pair random people using their web cams, to look at each other. You start a Game and you begin a series of ‘lookings’ as people look back at you. Connect, cruise, watch, interact, boot – that is the anatomy of a Chatroullete! game. If you like what you see, you can linger a while or begin a conversation, or just ‘boot’ your ‘partner’ and get connected to somebody else in the almost infinite network. In the process you come across the unexpected, unpredictable and the uncanny. In the last one month of betting my time on Chatroullete!, I have seen it all and then some more – masturbating teenagers, strip teasing men and women, animals (including a very handsome tortoise) staring back at me, groups of friends eating dehydrated noodles and giggling, partners in sexual intercourse, graphic images of human gentilia, clever advertisements, pictures, art, musicians performing, dancers dancing, conference delegates staring bemusedly at a screen, ... the list is endless and  probably exhausting. A growing community of users now dwell on Chatroulette! to connect in this new way that is part speed dating, part networking, part performance, part voyeurism.

The verdict on the blogosphere is still not in whether this is a new fad or something more long-lasting.  Irrespective of its longevity, what Chatroullete! has done is show us a new universe of social interaction that Digital Natives around the world find appealing.  The possibilities of cultural exchange, collaborative working, love, longing and learning that emerge around Chatroullete! are astounding.   For Digital Natives the appeal of Chatroullete! is in forging viral and temporary networks which defy the Facebook way of creating sustained communities of interaction. This is the defining moment of virtual interaction and online networking –A model that is no longer trying to simulate ‘Real Life’ conditions online by forming permanent networks of ‘people like us’.  Chatroulette! marks the beginning of a new way of spreading the message to completely random strangers, enticing them into thought, exchange and mobilisation through the world of gaming. The potentials for drawing in thousands of unexpected people into your own political cause are astounding. It might be all cute cats and sexual performance now, but it is only a matter of time when Digital Natives start exploring the possibility of using Chatroulette! to mobilise resources for dealing with crises in their personal and public environments. The wheel has been spun. We now wait to see where the ball lands. says:
Jul 12, 2010 11:41 AM
Aren't you referring to '1984' by Orwell? 'Brave New Word' was by Aldous Huxley right?
nishant says:
Jul 13, 2010 03:45 PM
Thanks for the edit. Indeed, I was referring to 1984. Made the change :)
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