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Anti-social, and loving it

A new anti-social site that celebrates anonymity and strongly encourages you to chat with strangers has caught people’s imagination, writes Sanchita Sharma.

entertainment Updated: Jul 12, 2009 00:30 IST
Sanchita Sharma

Anti-social, and loving it

A new anti-social site that celebrates anonymity and strongly encourages you to chat with strangers has caught people’s imagination. After the information overload on Facebook and Twitter, the chance to network faceless on Omegle.com without sharing your life-story is really refreshing. Created by an 18-year-old student Leif K-Brooks in the US, Omegle discourages ‘asl’ — age, sex, location — conversations and wants you to talk to unknown people about things you know. The conversations are refreshingly impersonal.

Perfect strangers

Find out yourself. Log in to Omegle.com and you’ll immediately get connected to a random user from somewhere across the world. I logged in and got Canada, China and Malaysia. We chatted on igloos, Dan Brown and online gaming. I shamelessly pretended to be hooked to MMORPGs (massively multiplayer online role-playing games) and borrowed heavily from my son’s current obsessions.

Role-playing seemed all right. After all, it was a stranger who would happily remain one. The site informed me there were 3,745 current users while I was chatting, of which I was one, referred to as ‘You’. The stranger was simply ‘Stranger’. Within four months of its launch on March 25 this year, the site is getting an average of 1.5 lakh page views a day.
My tween — twelve-going-on-thirteen — is currently hooked to the site, not because he particularly likes chatting with strangers, but because it allows him to pull off silly pranks.

Northern comfort

Currently, his favourite subject of conversation is North Korea. No, he’s not crazy about Kim Jong-Il, he likes his dogs alive and has no curiosity about a country perpetually on the brink of famine. He likes North Korea because, he says, it is the best possible filter against pesky strangers who get too close — figuratively, of course — for comfort. “When people ask my ‘asl’ I pretend for a while, and if they get annoying, I simply give my location as North Korea. They immediately disconnect,” he said.

“Really? What about Iraq or Afghanistan?”

“They also work, but North Korea works best. As soon as you mention you live in North Korea, they go offline.”

Safety in anonymity

I tried. It happened two out of three times. Pranks apart, why should a site about strangers talking to each other get so many page views? Psychologists say anonymity can allow for refreshing honesty and you can truly be yourself without social pressure. I can imagine that. I know people who spend days choosing holiday pictures for Facebook.

Added to that is the nice feeling that there’s someone out there you don’t know and will never meet who shares your interests. It’s a little like the Meg Ryan-Tom Hank starrer You Got Mail, minus the soppiness. The longest my son chatted to a stranger was for 20 minutes about their favourite

MMORPGs and the much-awaited Super Mario Galaxy II release for the Wii in 2010. (Yes, the countdown has already begun.)
The trouble, of course, is that most of the people online are teenagers and young adults, which kind of limits their interests to, well, gaming and Green Day. For the weirdos and paedophiles, there’s always the North Korea
firewall.