The email from the Editor began with the sentence “If you’re stuck for an idea for your article this week..”,

[Stuck? What?! The very idea that I would have difficulty finding inspiration for an article was preposterous. Sure my idea for a piece on whether humans would eventually evolve to lose their baby toenails was journalistic gold…]

“…you could have a look at ChatRoulette. Once you get past the pornography, it’s actually quite interesting”.

Well I could hardly refuse a direct order now could I?

ChatRoulette is the latest ‘meme’ to sweep the Internet. (A meme is a cultural phenomenon that spreads rapidly and gains popularity through word-of-mouth. Like a virus. Crystal Swing’s He Drinks Tequila While She Talks Dirty in Spanish is a meme. Footage of the cabinet reshuffle is not. It’s more of a same)

The ChatRoulette.com website pairs you with a complete stranger to chat with via a webcam. When you log onto the site, within seconds a procession of people who you have never met can see you and the untidy mess in your room. The ‘roulettish’ bit about it is that you never know who you will chat to next. It’s completely random and anonymous. And when people can do something anonymously, things start to get hairy (literally).

We’ve always had exhibitionists. They can take many forms. Some frequent GAA pitches after the game and know how hilarious it is to stand waving behind Marty Morrissey as he does his piece to camera.

Now transfer this compulsion to the Internet, remove Marty Morrissey and most of the man’s clothing and you are presented with one of the main problems with ChatRoulette. A large proportion of those on it have the same ..how-shall-I-put-it… party-piece.

The mostly male players on ChatRoulette are generally only interested in talking to women, so one glance at my chiselled cheekbones and strong jaw and they quickly press Next. In fact there are so many males looking to chat with so few females that at times it can resemble an Engineering disco in UCC – with less checked shirts.

As I write this, I’ve ended a two hour stint at the roulette wheel with limited results. It’s quite a humbling experience to be Nexted by so many strangers. The only people who must deal with this level of rejection are those whose working day involves repeating the phrase “Can I talk to you for a minute about Concern?

To grab people’s attention you have to say something interesting quickly. But what I find interesting doesn’t necessarily rock other people’s boats. One girl who stopped to chat was from Brazil. I proceeded to tell her how Gort in Co. Galway had  a 30% Brazilian population and that we were worried in Cork that we would have to deal with particularly silky hurling from the Tribesmen in the coming decade. ‘Letícia’ paused, and with a thoughtful expression on her face replied that she was in fact ‘a very bad girl’ While I was digesting this information, a certain fianceé reached over my shoulder and pressed Next with a flourish. “Research purposes, is it?” she said meaningfully.

My very next chat was with an Israeli gentlemen. We exchanged pleasantries, nothing too deep, just the usual:

Israeli Man: Hello My name is Arvi.

Colm: Hello Arvi, how are you? Listen, I need to get my passport renewed. Can you ask your secret services to get one for me. Our Passport Office is on strike and I heard your people can, you know, arrange things.

Arvi: Um, Not sure. Do you like men?

This was getting a little uncomfortable. Did no one want to just talk about innocent things? Apart from the litany of proposition, rejection and lewd Show-And-Tell, ChatRoulette is still a fascinating snoop on the lives of others. Take a look behind the face on the camera and you start to notice little details in their room. A Phil Collins poster on the wall. A horse pattern on the curtains. Tesco Digestive biscuits on a table. It’s the sheer unvarnished ordinariness of the people on the screen that makes ChatRoulette a strangely addictive experience. Though just to be on the safe side, I still gave my room a bit of a tidy before logging on. You wouldn’t know who would drop in.

And even though these people are miles away, you still experience those little awkward moments when both people are looking at each other unsure whether to say anything or just move on. Like when you’re sitting on the train wondering if you could borrow someone’s paper but don’t know whether you want the hassle of conversation.

Now it’s getting late so I think it’s time to go on ChatRoulette one last time to try and have a friendly conversation.  A man is waving. I wave back. He’s got a baseball cap on sideways. I let that slide, though I normally believe it to be unforgiveable.

“Hello” I say cheerfully

“Damn you’ve got some big eyebrows” he replies.

“Really? Well at least I’m not a LANGER with a stupid cap” I say, holding onto what pride I’ve left.

I think it’s time I left the table.

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