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Sam Anderson investigates a new phenomenon called ChatRoulette, something John Heilemann just tipped me off about:

The site activates your webcam automatically; when you click “start” you’re suddenly staring at another human on your screen and they’re staring back at you, at which point you can either choose to chat (via text or voice) or just click “next,” instantly calling up someone else.

The result is surreal on many levels.

Early ChatRoulette users traded anecdotes on comment boards with the eerie intensity of shipwreck survivors, both excited and freaked out by what they’d seen. There was a man who wore a deer head and opened every conversation with “What up DOE!?” A guy from Sweden was reportedly speed-drawing strangers’ portraits. Someone with a guitar was improvising songs for anyone who’d give him a topic. One man popped up on people’s screens in the act of fornicating with a head of lettuce. Others dressed like ninjas, tried to persuade women to expose themselves, and played spontaneous transcontinental games of Connect Four.

The whole piece is a fascinating read. Money quote:

As Internet culture has grown, we’ve come to romanticize certain kinds of unmediated, old-fashioned “human” interactions. But this fantasy ignores how much of normal social interaction is fleeting, bite-size, instant, tweetlike. Humans have always talked to each other via a kind of analog Twitter. These new technologies just get us there with maximum efficiency. Meeting a new person is thrilling, in a primal wayyour attention focuses completely, if only for a nanosecond, to see if the creature in front of you has the power to change your life for better or worse. ChatRoulette creates this moment over and over again; it privileges it over actual conversation.

Kottke spent a half-hour on the site:

During my session, the average "chat" lasted about 5 seconds and I observed several people drinking malt liquor, two girls making out, many many guys who disconnected as soon as they saw I wasn't female, several girls who disconnected after seeing my face (but not before I caught the looks of disgust on theirs), 3 couples having sex, and 11 erect penises. In a Malkovichian moment, I was even connected to myself once...and then the other me quickly disconnected. In short, Chatroulette is pretty much the best site going on the internet right now.

Screenshots captured by Richard Lawson.

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