Talking to Strangers

Ani Khashadoorian

Hi, my name is Ani and I enjoy long walks on the beach…

Unless I’m prowling late at night on Omegle; then I enjoy introduce myself by slamming a caps lock message consisting of three words – “DON’T A/S/L ME.”

For those readers who were born before 1970, A/S/L stands for “Age/Sex/Location.”

A popular term coined in the mid-’90s when Internet chat rooms starting becoming prevalent, A/S/L and its implications stand clear and are used more often than they should be. That said, not every Omegler is trying to “hook up,” and it is in those conversations that the fun starts.

Internet chat rooms have a sense of anonymity that cannot be matched. Omegle is the latest internet craze, a virtual reality where two strangers can engage in an anonymous chat. Unlike the AOL chatrooms of a decade ago, Omegle randomly connects two people upon on a white screen with black text.

In this latest incarnation of the almighty chat room, the Omegle chats instantly label the two people – yourself , known as “You,” and the person at the other end, named “Stranger,” an apt designation, for that is who they are.

At any point in time, you may disconnect or even have a ‘Connection Imploded’ message come up on the screen. The former is an action of your choosing; the later, a technical error.

Is Omegle the degeneration of interpersonal communication, or the perfect way to align connected people who would otherwise never meet?

It is my belief that Omegle is the next logical step forward in digital communication, and it is ultimately for the greater good.

After throwing out my demand of no questions pertaining to my age, sex, or location, I often find myself either immediately disconnected or engaged in an actual conversation with a Stranger.

In the past few days, for I am new to Omegle-ing, I’ve spoken with a teen from Israel, an elderly music professor from the UK, a college student from Chile, and a video game programmer from Japan.

Right now, I’m speaking with a University of Pennsylvania student who is, quite frankly, boring the living beejezus out of me, as he is asking me for advice about women. When I try to reply, he becomes defensive and spouts off. I suppose that not every chat is going to be entertaining and informative, but that’s the beauty of Omegle – it is so incredibly random. You never really know what you’re getting.

The teen from Israel spoke to me about the required military service; to hear someone talk about how they are forced into something they don’t believe in – it breaks your heart. There is virtually nothing they can do, due to their age and the negative social ramifications of refusal.

The professor from the UK told me about living in the countryside; did you know cows get right of way on some roads?

The college student from Chile and I discussed the intricacies of thrash metal and Dave Mustaine’s role in pioneering the genre. I was also told about the beautiful port city of Valparaiso, a city I likely wouldn’t have heard about if not for this chat.

The video game programmer and I spoke about love and the intricacies of it, of how effortless and simple true love should and will be. Also, I may have asked a question or two about rolling my own sushi; I don’t quite remember.

Omegle has definitely allowed me to speak with people who I would otherwise never have the chance to meet; all of the aforementioned people I now keep on my email contacts list as we exchanged information.
Though it is irritating to get the occasional A/S/L, the majority of Omegle users seem to be sane enough. My kind of people.

And as for walks on the beaches? I must confess, I lied.

Beach walks are kind of irritating after a bit, since navigating the sandy turf requires a lot of physical effort and the gritty sand often ends up invading my shoes for far longer than my comfort level allows (much like the cousin from Berkeley who happens to be couch crashing ‘just for the weekend’). Still, there’s a kind of truth in the cliche.

Like Omegle itself, it isn’t about the sand so much as it is about looking towards the ocean’s horizon, beyond the defined world of personal experience and onto people and places unseen and unknown. Omegle is the technology that proves that a stranger is a friend you haven’t met yet.