I’ll Be Your Mirrorby Brandon Edmonds / 25.02.2010
You never look in a mirror alone. There’s always a chorus accompanying you – whether it’s the projected audience of your peers (the people you hang with, the girls or boys, or house pets, you want to attract) or the voice in your head (the one that praises your ass, your abs or boobs, if you’re well adjusted, building you up for a night out, or the one that cackles, telling you you’re fat and unworthy, if you’re not). You never look in a mirror alone. The genius of a newish website chatroulette.com lies in making this fun. Go try it.
You just sit and your webcam does the rest. See how you can see yourself being seen by others? It’s a social mirror. You can see yourself in the eyes of others. You participate in their reaction to you. Their reaction sums you up, or them up, as you react. Both of you immediately apply your own prejudices, your conceits, and your age, class, race and gender settings, to the other person facing you. It’s a crash-course in popular taste and a remarkable means of self-discovery.
You can ‘next’ someone whenever you want. No questions asked. And there’s always someone new a screen away. You never have to suffer the consequences of your own rejection. You can be as benevolent or ruthless as you wish. Feelings don’t matter – just next, and next again. As one online writer put it, “it’s kind of like a truck stop glory hole mixed with speed dating, but minus the awkward intimacy!” Yes, it is kind of like that.
In minutes you’ve flipped through a cavalcade of social types, from solo skinny Asian men with tidy hair and tidier rooms, to fuller figured women in loveless apartments with big hair, to naughty tweens grinning with transgression, to skate boys masturbating, to corpulent baldies with sadness oozing from their pores.
The great realists of the 19th Century, from Flaubert to Proust, Dickens to Edith Wharton, would have killed for this kind of up-close diversity, this at-hand indexing of social selves. Technology continues to race ahead of our tired relational matrixes. New mentalities will be expert skimmers of the social. As the reach and critical power of historical awareness dies (we mourn the recent passing of radical historian Howard Zinn whose popular ‘People’s History of the United States’ remains a richly moving counter-narrative to the official version of America), it’ll be increasingly easy for people to think of others as disposable amusements, as interchangeable faces onscreen. What will a politics of citizens reduced to webcam blurs amount to? Maybe the webcam blurs will be the lucky ones, and the rest of us will be offline scavenging in the mega-slums of our worst nightmares!
Let’s cross that dystopian bridge when we come to it, though. For now, here are the very funny greatest hits of chatroulette (so far).