Thursday, March 11, 2010
In my day it was called Russian Roulette. You loaded a pistol with just one bullet, flipped the cylinder (see above), aimed at your head, and pulled the trigger. Don't shoot yourself dead and you win.
I had heard of it before, but am pretty sure I saw the execution of Russian Roulette in the movie The Deer Hunter. Chrisopher Walken played a young soldier in Viet nam (link to summary of the movie). You wonder, when you watch such a thing, who in their right mind . . . would play that game?
Thus the intent of Chat Roulette. Play it if you dare.
I read a blogger, a well-educated blogger, an author of social media books, who discussed the merits of meeting strangers on the Internet using a web cam. Chat Roulette is the perfect social experiment, really, albeit as a dissertation project would not pass through the Office of Protection of Reseach Subjects Institutional Review Board) (OPRS-IRB) at my school.
The social media blogger, however, maintains that the live chatroom desensitizes people, and that this is a good thing, builds social confidence. You open yourself up to meeting, at least viewing, whoever is in the room. Live (rhymes with jive). If you don't want to chat, you click and move onto the next new person. You learn, in this process, not to fear others just because they have different skin color or different clothing. You learn not to worry if people are even wearing clothing, is the theory.
And this is supposed to be a good thing, desensitizing to nudity and pornography in this social learning process. At first I considered the odds of seeing an exhibitionist, that perhaps they are very low. Then I thought, no. The multi-billion dollar, reaching trillion-dollar international child-pornography industry gets help from somewhere. You know where. Here, on the Internet.
Best, perhaps, might be to get to know the people that you already know. Increase your intimacy skills within the system you live. How many people really know the people in their neighborhood? I found it fascinating that when people visited me after my father passed away, that they knew very little about me. You know more about me than the people in my neighborhood. And obviously, there are two sides to this. I know very little about them.
A Swedish study found that 80% of Internet users are in it to find romance. There's an interesting statistic! Looking for love. And we know that it can be found, too. The dating sites, the Match.com's, the eHarmony's. You can even find someone who is just like you, who fits your psychological profile, which has to be good.
I like the question on one of the dating surveys, "How important is cleanliness to you?" This is an important question.
But ChatRoulette is different. It's about face-face, body-body social interaction with no pre-interview survey, by camera, any time of day, with a random individual, someone online at the same time, in the same room, or rectangle. You walk into a different random social interaction, not unlike sitting in the waiting room to see your medical doctor.
Wait a minute. It's very unlike meeting a random stranger at the doctor's. In the waiting room, the likelihood is that both of you are fully clothed.
Ah, but here, on ChatRoulette, you will meet very different people, people from different nations, different spheres of influence, different worlds. It's a student exchange program without the application fee! So what if they don't speak English, you can pigeon English your way through a conversation and this opens up a world of new experience, life outside your bubble. Talk about sensory arousal! New people, no fear of home invasion or guns. Nobody can hurt you. All you have to do is push NEXT and you're onto the next human being, up close and personal.
Maybe too close and personal.
At an Internet Safety workshop for high school kids in Atlanta, we discussed whether or not it is something they want to do, walk into a chatroom like ChatRoulette (it was described, not named). Remember, these are high school kids. They want to test limits, they have the confidence, they feel the omnipotence. They take risks. But they're not stupid and they get it, post-traumatic stress, acute stress disorder.
ChatRoulette is described like this. Two rectangles are on the screen. You are in one rectangle being filmed live by your webcam, like on g-vid or Skype. To start, another visitor pops up in the other rectangle. All you have to do, if it isn't the kid from India or Spain that you had hoped to meet, is click and you're onto the next person in the room. If you could go to a chatroom like this, would you?
Well, why not? It's totally anonymous. You don't even register with more than a fictional screen name. Sure, they can see you, indeed can capture your video, but you're dressed. Not that someone can't Photoshop a naked body to your head, maybe, and blackmail you. But let's not get paranoid. Is it paranoia to think this way? The state's attorneys offices don't think so.
But back to the fun. So the first person you see is a Japanese business man in his forties in a suit. You're not interested, click to the next. The second person is an elderly Moroccan athlete. Next. The third is a 20-something micro-biology geek. You talk a minute, move on. The fourth is a sexual predator completely naked holding something in his hand, leering mischievously at you.
Sure, you move on. You're not interested in watching this live, pornographic movie. But what do you do with that picture in your head? You think it just goes away?
I tell the story of a kid who walks her dog and a guy in a car stops to ask directions. She doesn't want to get any closer, but her dog is huge and is growling at the guy in the car. So she gets closer to give him directions and she sees where his hand is, what he's doing. And she sees the look in his eye, when he sees that she sees.
We call that a paraphilia, exhibitionism. He gets off on her fear, her surprise. So common. Harmless? She doesn't ever forget the look in his eyes, or what she saw.
So I'm thinking, why would anyone invite this kind of snapshot memory? Are we so desensitized? Should we be? That's the goal? Seems to me that if we desensitize to pornography we open the door to further sexual exploitation.
Every day I deal with someone's victimization. Every single day.
So we worry, me and the state's attorney's offices all over the United States, all over the world, about sexual predators, and what people will undoubtedly find, when it comes to ChatRoulette. The snapshot picture doesn't just go away.
Somebody close that thing down.