While panel talks on large social networks often turn to questions of privacy, safety and personal space, I cannot help thinking that there is an entire generation who is fearless in the face of an anonymous crowd. Yesterday at 11:00pm there were 20,000 people online at Chatroulette.
The premise of the service is that two anonymous strangers turn on their webcams to stare at each other through the great digital divide. Most participants are civil with a few exposing themselves or looking for others to expose themselves. While the nudity contingency is the minority, it’s the hint at a possible live freak show that seems to draw new users. The Chatroulette site has become such a meme that users are already posing as others including the entire male cast of Jersey Shore. Why am I writing this you ask?
In looking at mainstream sites, I wonder how online norms have shifted. Pornography always had a huge presence on the Web, but for those not looking for porn, it was YouTube and MySpace that formed the kernel of a meme. My generation of slovenly hipsters thought we were so edgy when the service once touted as the smallest, fastest and most standards compliant Mozilla image library was named libpr0n. The site FAQ is upfront in stating, “The main goal of the library is to render pornographic images in an efficient way.” But these aren’t live images. It’s just image rendering with a memorable name.
It’s time to face facts. In comparison to kids nowadays, we’re thoroughly vanilla. And if we actually think the new roulette style of Facebook chat Popjam is the same as Chatroulette, then we are missing the point.
In the last few years, Youtube videos and jokes once considered taboo have become perfectly acceptable for my father to print and post to the office bulletin board. Like a real life Quentin Tarantino film, the repetition of oddities and recorded perversities have desensitized even our parents. With a real-time feed, constant mobile connection and decent streaming video, a site that offers the slight hint of live soft core pornography may well be the last vestige of youth.