Hybrid Space: Chat Roulette

by Aaron Bialick


Hybrid spaces arise when virtual communities (chats, multiuser domains, and massively multi-player online role-playing games), previously enacted in what was conceptualized as cyberspace, migrate to physical spaces because of the use of mobile technologies as interfaces. - de Souza e Silva, "From Cyber to Hybrid"

Chatroulette.com, or Chat Roulette, is a website (or "web space") that engages complete strangers with one another via webcams. Users simply click a button and find themselves face to face with a random, new person. Both users have the ability to disconnect from each other at any time.

Absolutely no concrete information is initially given about any user aside from what is on the screen. Geographical locations are generally unknown - but for the most part they become irrelevant, and geographical dislocation yields a strong hybrid connection.

With users knowing that someone's attention will be subjected to whatever first appears on their screen, at the very least for a fleeting moment, the appearance of users and their physical space are emphasized, transforming them into a public exhibition.

Many users find themselves encouraged to be visually creative, thus making changes to their physical space as it merges with another via cyberspace. But that "other" space is more of an abstract idea, as no one knows exactly what space or whose theirs will be merging with - and so their presentation becomes based on speculation about their expected audience.

For instance, some seem to fit their appearance appropriately in order to simply fish for amusing reactions of shock from others:


Occasionally, there is a combination of two participants who have both created such exhibitional identities for this new hybrid space that together they become much more virtual than real:


As the two physical spaces merge, the lines between geographical and digital spaces blur, and they manifest or "bleed into" one another.

An example of this can be seen here where one user plays a joke by pretending to see a spider in the other's room:

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Another example of this can be seen in the act of physically drawing another user's image onto paper. A participant can thus take a very concrete and physical presence in a place of which the actual location may be unknown to them. Here, the image of my friend Brett in New York is brought into existence on paper somewhere else in the world likely unknown, and it quite possibly still exists there now:


Of course, there are many other uses of this hybrid space. Fortunately or unfortunately for many, nudity is not an uncommon sight.

But the real range possibilities may come if and when this website gains mobile capability. While it is currently mostly used in residences, the ability to use Chat Roulette anywhere with wireless internet access would open the door for the transformation and merging of any of those spaces into hybrid, mutual exhibitional spaces.

Some sites for funny Chat Roulette photos & videos:

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