Not since the days I used to frequent the locker rooms before and after squash sessions at Brown University, yes, not since then have I seen so many penises in such a short time. What's with guys who strip off and grab their genitals in front of a webcam for utterly random people across the globe to see? What are they thinking?
I speak, of course, of Chatroulette. I had a couple of surreal sessions with the site, and I mean surreal. Stick a pin at random into a map of the world: what does the person you've figuratively impaled look like? What do you say? What will she or he (well, mostly he) say? Well, that's the Chatroulette experience. The thought of being connected, even for fleeting instants, to these completely random people in completely random corners of the planet is both strange -- when before this Web age would it have been even conceivable? -- and strangely seductive.
And they are fleeting. Because I am who I am, and look it too, the vast majority of connections are promptly broken at the other end. (Though there was the young lad who typed out these words while smirking dopily at me through the void: "You're a boy pretending to be a girl". Who knows). But when I had my wife sit, statue-like and impassive, before the laptop -- ah, that didn't result in promptly broken connections. Not one.
So I saw: Shadowy figures behind curtains. Two guys, mercifully clothed, who slowly smiled and even more slowly raised all four middle fingers to the camera -- the old Slow Motion Quadruple Bird Flip, obviously. "Show us your tits for Haiti!". An inflatable life-size plastic doll impaled you-know-how. Counters showing "tits" and "bums", with the former comfortably ahead. Another set of counters totting up "Europe" and "USA", dead even as far as I can tell before the disconnect. The female sex in perhaps one of every thirty connections (if you don't count plastic dolls). And yes, the penises, many times more frequently than the female sex. (I mean, you don't see women grabbing their genitals for their Chatroulette webcams. Why do men do it?)
But I did have two thoroughly entertaining and satisfying conversations. One with someone who claimed to be a civil servant in London, had lived in Delhi, asked about dams and Amartya Sen and micro-finance and Kerala and plenty more. Another with a young man in Hunan province in China, sitting in what he called a "web-bar", with other Hunan folks strolling around the room behind him. Making those two connections, even if we never speak again, was the beguiling part of the Chatroulette experience.
Though as I write this I cannot help wondering: at this very moment, how many men around the world are putting their genitals on display for Chatrouletters flitting by? My educated guess is 3268. And as Chatroulette spreads its seductive wings, that number will only rise exponentially.
There's a thought.