Erotic Computing

EC 1.4 (6/29/94)

by Douglas Davis, Ph.D.

Last week I promised some attention to the Digital Supermodels phenomenon. In the dim, antediluvian (serial TTY) days when the first fragmentary life-forms in the evolutionary chain that was to become Net began to take form in DARPA-land, a man sat up late, squeezing another cup of bitter coffee from a percolator and entering Xs and Os at a terminal keyboard. Finally he had a file that, transmitted at 300 baud to a fellow DARPAn across the land, could be printed to five pages of fan-fold paper, taped to a cork-board, and seen from a few feet away as a 3/4 life-size nude human female.

Let's assume that at some point a woman known to this early innovator must have seen the busty result of all that Defense funding, serial interfacing, and programming skill, and shaken her head in pre-feminist disbelief. The Rube Goldberg machines that produced those early sublimations of nerd lust are museum pieces now, of course, and today's Internet affords tens of millions of men around the known world virtual scratch 'n' sniff access to directories un-countable full of super' and wannabe models in all stages of (dis)array, downloadable at least to the academically-hardwired at megabit-per-second speeds and in megapixel resolution to one's very own, hard, drive.

These three screen snapshots record a brief sojourn into the Web with "cindy" and "crawford" as search strings. The Usenet discussion sampled must be the Information Age's most ubiquitous.

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The logical fourth screen would be a color JPEG of the lady herself, but these are probably being distributed in violation of someone's copyright--and you've doubtless seen her anyway, whether or not you have any idea where my other screens originated.

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What's the point? Seems to me that guy with his office-full of XXXs and OOOs (recall that he couldn't have actually seen the pretty lady on his low-res screen) was the unsung (and un-psychoanalyzed) genius behind the Information Revolution. He needed to create something titillating with his programming skill, and he was ready to sacrifice some of the taxpayers' money and the esteem of potential non-virtual girlfriends to this need.

The boys and men who have tried -- however guiltily and unimaginatively -- to make their computers sexy are teaching us about the transference of feelings to objects, something about which programmers must, at some preconscious level, know a great deal.

The gendered investment of erotic energy in belongings didn't begin with time-sharing systems or personal computers, of course. Surely, at least if you're my age, you've known someone who was this way about cars -- polishing the Dodge Dart, changing the still-clean oil, replacing plugs, reading Motor Trend, hanging out around Cashtown Motors talking to the mechanics, checking out the sexy calendars supplied by the parts-makers. How many of these pubescent technologues were female? Has that mattered, in the evolution of relations between the sexes?

We have a chance to look over these guys shoulders now, as they prowl (or is it "browse" -- the former a predatory, the latter a bovine, image) the Web? Despite all the discussion of male dominance in the computer industry, there's been little acknowledgment of what male taste in computers is telling us. Someone is going to have to design the software Generation X will run on its personal systems, and it will be "erotic," at least to those who use it successfully. Will it turn women on? Will a non-sexist future take shape if it doesn't? Next week: digital voyeurism.

Douglas Davis, Ph.D. <>

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Copyright (C) Douglas Davis 1994. All rights reserved.