BY EUNICE CHIN
When Omegle and Chatroulette were created, they shattered the framework of conventional social interaction. These free online chat websites allow users to communicate with strangers, randomly pairing them in one-on-one chat sessions where they speak anonymously using the handles “You” and “Stranger”. It’s a visual experience, with chat partners using webcams on both ends of the conversation.
The “Disconnect” or “Next” feature on chat sites like these enables users to end their conversations with strangers at their whim and connect to different, equally random users. This, in real life, would be the equivalent of walking away from someone who’s mid-sentence and seeking a more engaging conversational partner. It allows users to skip through hundreds of people as though they were idly flicking through the pages of a periodically-engaging magazine, an activity that bolsters a fickle attitude towards the lame and tame. Almost half a decade from their creation in 2008 and 2009, the thrill-eliciting, intensely addictive quality to Omegle and Chatroulette has yet to wear away.
The obscurity of these communication mediums simultaneously opens a doorway to the intimate lives of strangers and creates of a blurred boundary between what is and what isn’t.
For most of their users, Omegle and Chatroulette present a gleaming opportunity for a quick fix of entertainment, teeming with a myriad of eccentric characters on the web with time to kill and anonymity to hide behind.
But how much of what we see is real?
When two people are united online by chance, a tenuous third space is created where both of them can escape the world they inhabit and immerse themselves in sheltered discourse. This blankets them with a false sense of security, with the “Next” or “Disconnect” button available as their safety net.
Under the guise of anonymity, people believe themselves to be invincible. They have the power to reinvent themselves and their reality, to be bold—to pretend. They can feed the person on the other side with endless strings of white lies and embellish themselves at the expense of authenticity to paint the picture they want. And after their bouts of fun that usually only last for two minutes, they can move on with the “Disconnect” button, forever losing the person they held that brief connection with.
In the black screens that follow a disconnection, users are left to grope for fragments of truth buried in the conversation they’d just had. When they are unsatisfied with what they’ve found—and they most likely will be— they jump back into the reckless melee of strangers, searching for that one person to make their day.
These images are meant to evoke awareness—of ourselves, and the parts hidden within the recesses of our very beings that surface only under the guise of anonymity. How different are we from the person we project into the online world? When we hit the “Enter” key on the address bar to go to sites like these, are we subconsciously accepting that we’ll never truly know the person we’re connected to?
Take a moment to look at yourself and at the person you are online. If they are two entirely different people, are they going to stay that way?
Click on the slideshow below. Images are best viewed full screen.