Bored geeks plus webcam equals trouble

"What is that? A gherkin?"

(This article is published with the kind permission of my former partners-in-crime, who aren’t that fussed about repercussions now that they all have new jobs to go to.)

It started as a Friday-lunchtime pub conversation. “Wouldn’t it be funny if …”

One of the younger, clued-up, with-it, unmortgaged members of our group has been telling us all about Chat Roulette. I am notoriously old-fashioned and resistant to change; treating any new technology or fad with extreme scepticism. I tend to ignore anything that the Trendy Kids are doing these days; Chat Roulette is a good example.

But in essence (for the benefit of anyone reading over the age of 30): you visit a website and are connected (at random) to someone else who has also visited the site. You chat. At any time you (or the other party) can end the conversation, whereupon you are connected to someone else. It is completely anonymous. But the most interesting bit is that you are encouraged to use your webcam, as is the other party.

Seems fairly innocent. The naive reader may think that this would be a good way to meet new people and have deep and meaningful conversation. But let it sink in for a moment. Anonymous. Talk to anyone. No contact details. With webcam feeds. Now start to think about the sort of people who are allowed to buy computers these days.

Oh, dear God.

The freaks you’ll meet on Chat Roulette after about twenty minutes would eclipse the “unsuitable for TV” parts of the entire back catalogue of Jeremy Kyle. Furries. Naked people. Ugly people. Exhibitionists. Perverts. Nutjobs. Those who believe that the best way of celebrating their body is to broadcast their feverish and rampant self-abuse on the Internet.

If you’ve never heard of this, I’d recommend you look at collections like this one or this one to get a good idea … rather than actually trying it for yourself. Remember: I’m writing this blog and dealing with the filth so that you don’t have to. Your gratitude would be demonstrated most ably with donations to the usual address, please. It’ll help pay for the therapy.

So our young and learned colleague is holding court, as the rest of us sit in stunned silence. The whole sordid description of this window-into-humanity has put me right off my chilli-cheese-and-chips. But it is a topic that does rather lend itself to a “what if …” train of thought.

“So, what if … something like that got its wires crossed with our weekly video-conference with head office?”

“Like, one half of the conversation is talking about meeting deadlines, and the other is dressed in a guinea-pig costume and wanking feverishly?”

“Eeek, eeek, splat. Yes, just like that.”

As I say … just a silly, nearly-the-weekend, can’t-be-arsed, two-pint conversation. And if we all had work to do, that’s where it would have ended. But for reasons best known to themselves, our esteemed employers had chosen to piddle on us from a great height. They had given us our redundancy notices, taken great care to demonstrate how little they cared for us, given us no real work to do … but still insisted that we turned up for work every day and sat at our desks. They even maintained that we wrote weekly reports, even though mine said: “This week: dicked about. Next week: more dicking about.”

Now, I have every confidence in the professional behaviour of my colleagues … up to a point. We are human, after all, and have our limits. When head office would finally throw us out, and drive down with their van to empty the building … exactly how much office equipment and stationery do they expect to be left when they get here?

We are geeks. Bored ones. And we are left in an office full of computers and games consoles with precious little to do.

Deciding that mixing Chat Roulette with a weekly meeting would be more than enough to get us fired (and therefore save our employers forking out about two weeks pay) we adopt a different strategy.

The main meeting room has a huge table in it. There is a computer at one end, driving a huge Plasma TV with a video-conferencing camera above it. We use it to communicate with head-office for weekly management meetings. It is unused for the rest of the time.

So we sit around the desk, set up the flipchart with a fictional “ANNUAL FISCAL SALES – ChatRoulette.com” graph (the decline of which mirrors our own morale), crank up a web-browser… and see how people react when they think they’ve been dumped in the middle of Chat Roulette’s very own corporate meeting. We try to interview people for mythical jobs. We also keep a tally of how many body parts we see.

We also take regular screenshots because, quite frankly, no-one would believe us otherwise.

Click on the thumbnails to see them in a bit more detail, with the chat (if there was anything to read).

And the best thing we can learn from this sordid affair? Employers who are going to lay an entire studio off: look up the term “garden leave”. You know it makes sense.

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posted in Geekery, People, Work by Oddbloke

1 Comment to "Bored geeks plus webcam equals trouble"

  1. Rob wrote:

    Many years ago, one of my colleagues described his first experience of Microsoft NetMeeting, back when it was new and bundled with Windows,um, 95? …. “Some bod tried to chat with me, I accepted, and all I could see was his dick”.

    It seems that chatroulette is just one of a number – The register has a recent article about another service, omegle, which seems to be pretty much the same thing, with the same sorts of users!
    http://www.theregister.co.uk/2010/04/18/omegle_argle_bargle/

    But… good show on the meeting! Would love to have been able to do something like that..!

 
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