Remember Chatroulette? Yes, that revolutionary tool for having random conversations with complete strangers in which 80% of the time you ended up seeing someone’s genitals via webcam. Anonymity as a powerful tool of socialization is now returning to the limelight, this time via your smartphone: Meow is a smartphone app that lets you connect to anonymous chatrooms and start conversations with users across the world, with the added benefit that you can do searches according to your location.
The disinhibiting character of anonymity has always been a constant on the Internet ever since the launch of chat and instant messaging sites among the general public. Those days of the 90s, when you’d go to themed chat rooms under cover of a pseudonym using a photo of a Norwegian underwear model as your profile to trick people, are now long gone. These behaviors undoubtedly made it possible to express yourself honestly and behave with the ace up the sleeve of being able to completely disappear if you said something you shouldn’t.
Meow is the umpteenth tool that takes advantage of this, swapping the immediacy and chaos of the aforementioned Chatroulette for a scalable structure that lets you talk to strangers through a much more natural process. When you create your user account you can access hundreds of anonymous chatrooms generated by the app, where you can get involved in multiple conversations. If you want to talk with someone in particular, you can request a private chat that both parties have to accept. And then see what happens.
The complicated thing about these apps is trying to disinfect the sex germ from the matter, and it’s more than probable that most of those interested in such an app are looking to have a little physical happy time more than start a profound and revelatory conversation about transcendental topics with a complete stranger with whom they can be fully sincere. No, with rare exception, Meow will end up being the same as usual, a tool to facilitate indiscriminate hookups based on Instagram-filtered photos and hilarious emojis.
In fact, it should surprise no one that in general, anonymity promotes more rudeness and discourtesy on the part of Internet users. There’s no lack of proper data to back up this nearly-obvious fact: it’s easy to find studies that show that comments on social networks from a profile detached from your real details are much more wounding and cheap than those you’d make with your first name alongside them.
Like it or not, mass psychology and individual reactions to the safety of mass anonymity has more negative connotations than romantic ones, no matter how much anonymous commenting might serve as a battle horse to fight against unjust causes. Whether it’s criticizing a celebrity on Twitter or trying to get a Taiwanese teenager to show you something else than a smile, hiding your identity in the digital world to relate with other people makes human relationships even more warped than they already are.