I bought my first PC relatively late, when I was already in my twenties so I never got to know the old platforms like IRC or ICQ. Many of the terms my classmates in high school used meant nothing to me. I could never understand (by the way I still cannot) why people chose to communicate through their computers when they could easily meet for a coffee or a walk out. Then of course there was the Skype revolution and later on Facebook took the virtual communication to a whole new level.
But even that seems outdated now, in the fast developping world of webcam chatrooms. The idea is as simple as it is genius – all you need is a webcam and then you can have a video chat with a person halfway around the world. A person you have never met before and likely will never meet again once you log out. An incognito conversation where you do not have to hide your face – just because the person on the other side of the screen knows nothing about you.
The technical advancements in laptop and smartphone technology made it all possible. Now all modern notebooks have a high-resolution video camera that transmit a stable, perfectly adequate audio and video stream once you connect to the site software. You do not need to download or adjust anything – in many chatrooms you do not even need to create a profile.
But this is just the technical side of the matter and it still does not give us the answer why are these webcam chatrooms so successful and so rapidly growing? To give a quick notion of what we talk about, when you connect to chats like Chatroulette or Chatrandom there are between 40 and 60 000 users online at any given moment. This number includes people from literally every corner of the world. Consider the fact that these sites are relatively new and you will be stunned by their popularity and growing influence.
When I first logged on to Chatrandom I honestly did not know what to expect. I did it out of curiosity and boredom – probably in equal proportions. I was not looking for something or someone, I was not doing research, I was just wasting my free time – plain and simple. This is why I was even more shocked and surprised to realize that there are many people who seriously look for communication, flirting, friendship or just someone to talk to about stuff they cannot share with their real-life friends.
Was I the one who was thinking backwardly or these people were seriously delusional? How can you possibly expect to communicate with someone about something serious when you know absolutely nothing about this person? You don’t know his real age, education, profession, beliefs, background – nothing that constitute the normal basis of everyday interaction. It did not take me long to realize it was all a game. A game of hide and seek when you hide your true identity and can be whoever you want to be – no check-ups or control tests, no background vetting. As most chatrooms do not offer profile information for the person you chat with, there is no way to find out anything about them except for what they write at the moment.
But the lack of background information eliminates the most important prerequisite for serious communication – trust. If you cannot trust the person you chat with, there is no way you can be serious about sharing any information with them. So by necessity and simple logic most of the chats are examples of shallow, futile, meaningless sparrings of short questions and answers that give you no information at all.
Still, if this is the case, why do so many people visit these chatrooms so regularly? My strongest guess will be boredom – from my experience I never met someone at Chatrandom who looked like a workaholic or had a vibrant, satisfying daily routine. Most of these people were either students or unemployed (or definitely looked this way) and had a lot of free time. Nothing too bad about that, but there are definitely better and more creative ways to spend your free time.
My second guess, probably as strong as the first one would be the sexual undertones of these sites. Visit Chatrandom or Chatroulette or any other of the big sites of this kind and I bet you my weekly salary that at least half of the people you see will be naked and doing some things you do not see in your Monday morning meetings in the office. The lack of any moderator or administrative oversight on the chatrooms means you can do pretty much anything you want if the person on the other end of the connection is willing to put up with your kinks. And every time you hit the “next” button is like playing a Russian roulette – you do not know what you will come across!
Now do not act like you are shocked by what you have just read – we all know what the Internet is like and if you give people the free chance to connect with their webcams, the flirtations and sexual undertones will always emerge at one point. The problem with these websites is that there are hardly any other overtones at all. Even if you see a normal looking man or a woman sitting on a desk, sooner or later the conversation will turn into a flirt – just because this is what you are supposed to do in Chatroulette. If you want to speak about Dostoevsky or Hemingway, go to the library for God’s sake!
Is there any chance for this to change, could these chatrooms imrove to something better? Of course they can be an improvement, but it would take some radical changes and I am not sure most users will be happy about it. As I already mentioned the whole idea behind such kind of communication is anonymity – this is why so many people feel safe taking their clothes off on camera. But how about creating a profile and then linking it to a social media profile? And how about your chat partner is able to see this profile and check what your interests, hobbies, profession and education are?
Truly, this will be a game changer. And yes, probably 90% of the people who now use Chatrandom would never agree to such thing. Because the fundamental question here is what we want – anonymity and virtual sex or honesty and communication? Right now the former prevails. Maybe because most people find Russian roulette to be more exciting than a normal conversation.