Friday, 25 July 2014

044: The Erotic Engine (Sexytimes in Second Life)

Title: The Erotic Engine: How Pornography Has Powered Mass Communication, from Gutenberg to Google
Author: Patchen Barss
Publisher: University of Queensland Press, 2010
ISBN: 070223866X, 9780702238666
Length: 310 pages

A book with an interesting idea at its core, which I missed the first time around, but found a reference to in another article -- and found a copy in the library.

The author's primary thesis is that the desire to communicate sexual ideas and material increases the speed of introduction of new communication technologies. I could agree with that, if he'd expressed it that way; unfortunately Patchen Barss likes to add a moral dimension and choose loaded words like "pornography" to describe sexual materials and activities of which he doesn't approve, as opposed to "erotica", of which he does approve. Nevertheless, he has done some interesting research and talked to people who are far more interesting than he apparently finds them, since he squeezes their observations into the slender boundaries of his viewpoint. I constantly wanted him to get out of the way and let them talk about the topic, but he didn't.

And, yes, there is a chapter on Second Life and references to it throughout the book. I note that this book was published in 2010, so that means his limited experience of SL took place perhaps in 2008 or 2009; that explains why his experience of SL is perhaps so limited. I think what it boils down to is that he just doesn't understand Second Life or why people would want to have sex there, although he gives it a valiant try. His key informant is one Chaz Longstaff, who designs sex mats and things like elevators, but apparently Barss didn't find anyone with whom to have sex. Which, frankly, in Second Life is ... difficult. Barss must not have been trying very hard, I suspect, or found the whole thing icky. It's difficult to write a book about virtual sex and/or teledildonics if you can't bring yourself to have sex and report about it -- the most erotic thing in the book is a snippet of text-only sex harvested from a long-ago MUD. I'd say he was a pussy, but there's none of that in the book either.

This book, in fact, reads like a Time magazine article that's meant to convince elderly people that, yes, things are just the same as when they were kids, and, by cracky, all the crazy hijinks that these youngsters get up to are just the same as whatever dimly-remembered hijinks from 60 years ago might come to mind, it's just that they use this darn technology stuff. I rather thought he didn't really understand most of the technology about which he was writing, or he didn't manage to communicate anything about it in a way that made me believe he grasped it; this is pretty bad for a science writer. I understood what he was getting at because I've read about it before, and experienced quite a bit of it, but the average Time reader wouldn't get it at all.

All things considered, there is not much here that the average sexually-active resident of Second Life hasn't already grasped, and there is quite a bit missing due to the time gap that it would have been interesting to try to fit into the core thesis -- like Grindr, for instance. The principal theme is that "Pornographers are early adopters", and there's chapter after chapter showing that when people want to sell sex in new and exciting ways, they create new technologies and then non-sexual sales fill up the bandwidth. In SL terms, what this seems to indicate is that providing ways and means for people to have sexual experiences in Second Life is a primary economic engine that powers SL and keeps it thriving; I am pretty sure this is the case. Sexuality seems to underlie everything in Second Life that isn't purely connected with women's fashion, and the blurred line between the two means to me that, yeah, it's pretty much all about sex.

What this book left me with was a desire to convene a discussion group with some of Barss's key informants (but leaving out the pusillanimous Mr. Barss himself, since he can't bring himself to talk about virtual sex or have it) about what technological advances are likely to be possible in the recently-announced upgrade to Second Life -- what I'm calling Second Second Life (SSL).

For instance, I'd like someone to re-think the whole manner in which virtual penises penetrate virtual bodies; pretty much I want them to disappear "inside" the other body rather than poke through awkwardly. I'd like it to be much, much easier to create whatever SSL will use instead of pose balls, and animation sequences, and ways of embedding them in objects and being able to use them in places where you can't rez things. I'd like to be able to experience a lot more foreplay rather than moving directly into penetration. But I suspect that I have somehow limited my own viewpoint by casting things in terms of how they work in the current version of SL, and that whatever comes together in SSL will astound -- and possibly delight -- me and my partners.

What shall my readers want to see from Second Second Life in terms of how we have sex? Your comments are welcome, and since I have the adults-only boundary firmly and annoyingly set in place to restrict access to this blog, go ahead, use your grown-up words. Your comments will only be moderated in terms of spam.

PS: None of the images displayed here is my own; I harvested them from a few trillion pictures I found when I typed "Second Life sex" into Google Image.

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