So you’ve probably heard about Chatroulette by now. EVERYONE is writing about it and postulating about its significance — how it’s reminiscent of the early days of the Internet, how its growth reflects our desire for anonymity, how it’s the anti-Facebook and how Twitter is ‘so 2009’ as celebs like Ashton Kutcher and Chris Brown jump onto the Chatroulette bandwagon. The New York Times even managed to track down the creator of the site (who happens to be a 17 year old student in Moscow) and the site already appears to be creating a market of clones. Here’s the bottom line –- the site is popular and it’s controversial, so the mainstream media has to talk about it. I don’t fault them for trying to dig deeper and extract some larger meaning out of its popularity and for speculating whether it’s the “next big thing”. However, here’s the unfortunate truth –- Chatroulette means nothing. It’s just a pointless toy (no wonder kids love it) that reflects the unfortunate state of modern society.
I can spend my whole lifetime trying to articulate why Chatroulette means nothing, but will not be able to put it as well as Neil Postman did in his highly recommended book, Amusing Ourselves to Death. Here’s the best part — he was talking about television and wrote it way before the Internet of today. Postman was right; the contemporary world is better reflected by Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, than by George Orwell’s 1984. Although to a certain extent, it may be true that Big Brother is watching us, but we are more oppressed by our addiction to entertainment than by state control. You may want to give Chatroulette a try and you may even be entertained or amused for a few minutes (maybe even a few days or weeks), but that’s all you can hope to get out of it.
“For in the end, he [Aldous Huxley] was trying to tell us that what afflicted the people in Brave New World was not that they were laughing instead of thinking, but that they did not know what they were laughing about and why they had stopped thinking”
- Neil Postman, Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business (1985)