ChatRoulette, if you haven’t heard, is the newest mainstream outlet for people seeking to indulge their desire to be disgusted by their fellow man (or, somewhat less frequently, woman). The concept is simple: it starts a videochat between you and a random stranger, and when one or the other of you disconnects, it finds you someone else. And what you see can sometimes be pretty bizarre. Or, as Sam Anderson puts it in New York Magazine:
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.
Sadly, spectacles such as these are in reality few and far between. I can say from experience that the vast majority of ChatRoulette interactions fall into one of two categories: either you find yourself connected to another 18-24 guy, also alone, also staring blankly at his computer monitor; or you see a man masturbating. It’s no exaggeration to say that fully half of all people on ChatRoulette at any given time are pleasuring themselves, and most of the other half are trying to avoid them – to the presumable disappointment of both.
Initially, this saddened me. But then I started thinking about these masturbators, sitting alone in darkened rooms and training webcams on their throbbing members. Where did these people come from? Have they heretofore existed in such great number, and if so, how did they satisfy this fetish before ChatRoulette existed? What sort of joy do they take in making their private activities public? It would seem that there are literally tens of thousands of men out there – accountants, programmers, students, waiters – who have a deep-seated need to sexually connect not just with one person but with as many people as humanly possible. Is it fair to judge them after we provide them with the perfect tool to satisfy their desires?
I wanted answers, and I tried to go right to the source – the masturbators themselves. Sadly, they are disinclined to discuss the deeper psychological motivations behind their actions, and after an hour or so of being rejected by various self-fornicators I logged off of ChatRoulette feeling dispirited and vaguely dirty. But I remain that there are interesting sociological factors at work here, even if the avenue for investigating them is unclear.