Paris Hilton, Ashton Kutcher, Justin Bieber and Chris Brown have all been spotted at the place this past month. It is not a new club or a L.A. Starbucks. In fact, you don’t have to even get off of your couch to go there. Just turn on your computer and pull up the site Chat Roulette.

As you probably know by now, Chat Roulette, a video chat site that pairs you up with strangers on webcams across the world, is the latest internet phenomenon. The experience allows you to peer, briefly, into other people’s lives with the reassurance that a speedy escape is always possible in the form of the Next button. Chances are you’ve probably given it a whirl yourself, and been entertained, bewildered, and disgusted by some of the people you’ve encountered. I have, and it reminded me of when my family first got AOL while I was still in middle school. Back then, the Internet seemed to be all about connecting with other people, people living anywhere in the world. Now when I think of the Internet, I think of it as a news source, an e-commerce destination, or a place to catch up with the people I already know in real life via social networking sites. Chat Roulette seems to have brought back the unpredictable and unfamiliar sense the Internet had back when we all first began to sign on, which naturally makes people curious.

 

Some of those people just happen to be celebrities. Consider Justin Bieber, who can’t go to a mall without being mobbed. It must be rare for him to be able to interact with people outside his industry in the informal format Chat Roulette provides. This is not to say that celebrities have never used the Internet, but they had to remain much more discreet and anonymous because other Internet sites leave them vulnerable to invasions of privacy or harassment. If a fan got a hold of Justin’s email, his inbox would be flooded seconds after it was posted to a message board. More than one star’s private MySpace or Facebook account has been hacked in the past with embarrassing results. Chat Roulette, however, is totally random and does not provide any information about the person on your screen other than what they choose to share with you. A celebrity can engage in a conversation with a person who may or may not be a fan, hit Next whenever they feel the discussion has become too invasive, uncomfortable, or boring, and they are gone without a trace. Once they’ve moved on, you can’t get them back, and while you can tell your friends, there’s no guarantee they’ll be able to find them either.

 

Which is what my friend Ashley found out when she and her roommate pulled up the site and two dark haired young guys popped up on their screen. Before they even registered who it was, a third young man stuck his head out from off screen. Seeing all three of them together on screen, both Ashley and her roommate realized they were video chatting with the Jonas Brothers at the same time. Her roommate shrieked and slammed her hands down on the keyboard, mistakenly hitting the Next button in her excitement. The Jonas Brothers were gone.

Who knows how the conversation might have gone if she didn’t hit her keyboard? Maybe they would have serenaded them, gotten into a heated debate about health care, or, as it sometimes goes on Chat Roulette, maybe they would have flashed them. Based on the screen shots that have surfaced of CR encounters with celebs, chances are they would have made some small talk for a while before moving on. Still, when is the last time you made small talk with a Jonas brother on line at the supermarket?