Technology is totally blowing my shit lately. It might even actually be able to literally blow my shit. I’m not sure, I haven’t looked into it yet, but it’s certainly possible. Machines designed with sex in mind seem to be advancing at the same fast pace of the rest of this new fangled technological age. It seems that every day when I check my porn news feeds, the gods of technology have dreamed up new ways for people to have sex – with themselves, with each other, and with their computers.
I’m not talking about the Internet and porn. Yes, those two definitely make good bedfellows – and more power to them – but that shit’s old news. No, I’m talking about sex with machines. I’m talking about devices like Real Touch which enable virtual reality porn, the OhMiBod, a vibrator that syncs up to the pulse of your iPod, Japanese sex machines, and maybe even that fit-looking cyborg in all those Svedka Vodka ads.
I’m all for people finding new ways to get off. I think sex is inherently a creative act, but I have to wonder what we’re losing or gaining when we replace flesh with machine. And I’m not talking about simple sex toys like strap-ons, but machines that are simulated to seem like they’re interacting with you – as if they were another person. Are we gaining anything when we gear ourselves up for some virtual sex ? Are we simply using technology to explore new thresholds of pleasure? Or, are we losing the body and the Other in the process?
Technology increasingly designs both private and public life – whether it be security cameras in public spaces or Youtube parties – and it is designed to be used in a specific way for a specific, pre-ordained, purpose. Take security cameras, for example. No one can actually be watching them all the time. In that capacity, they’re useless. However, simply the possibility of being constantly watched produces normative behaviour. The same goes for other technologies. When I interact with my computer, my interactions are not only limited but pre-empted. Whether it be the government or Facebook rifling through our Internet garbage, or the fantasy that our lives are just like The Truman Show – technologies give us a weird complex about being surveiled, thus circumscribing our range of natural actions. It isn’t only the information the Internet gives us that is controlled; its very design requires specific physical and mental acts from the individual.
Think about what happens to you when you find out you’re being watched. For instance, the way you experience your body changes when you’re sitting on the bus and you notice someone watching you – real intense-like. All of a sudden, your body language changes – you start to think: “Was I making a weird face?” “Was I subconsciously picking my nose?” “Can they tell that I’m horny?” “What was I doing to make them notice me?” Now, take that power and put it in some Big Brother-esque system in the hands of the state, or Mark Zuckerburg. Whether or not people are watching those cameras, or if they’re digitally recording your emails and chats, the idea of them noticing you causes you to act in a particular, self-conscious way.
When Narcissus looked into the pond of water and saw his reflection, he didn’t realize that he was enraptured with himself. He thought he was looking at someone else – otherwise he would’ve got the hell outta there and got laid. Technology is the same kind of interruption of this recognition. We’re encouraged to think of machines as other beings, something you can have a two-way interaction with. In reality, we’re completely controlling our experience – and only in the limited way that the technological design allows us to. Technology is premised on the idea of facilitating interaction with other peoples’ opinions, art works, and bodies, within a realm of the freedom of individual choice. But, beyond the guise of increased individualism, no one mentions the factors of control behind the experience of the Internet. Beyond Big Brother, it is even a self-control that is forced upon us by such technologies: you are bringing up the articles you want to read, the people you want to text, the items you want delivered to your door. There is no interaction with the Other – only the interaction with the extension of self that is the machine. Of course, you can say this same set-up exists in the physical realm: you walk among your class, you talk with people like you. However, in the physical realm this experience can be interrupted by another being; on the web, you can simply shut your laptop screen.
Thus, you lose both your body and the Other when you interact with a machine, since the machine, which is supposedly the Other is actually an extension of self. The self, therefore, becomes heavily regulated by the machine. The ultimate example is Real Touch – the idea of virtual reality porn. Your corporeal body becomes the body on screen which is interacting with the digital body of the Other. Thus, the digital body seems more real than your physical one – as it is the one actually fucking someone. The Other, however, is not actually another person, but a machine – a machine controlled by you, but designed with only a limited amount of possibilities for you to control. As such, your experience has become a regulated one; the creativity afforded to the body is lost. The idea of being uncomfortable, of finding a new locus of pleasure, of simply listening to your sex therapist and “trying new things,” becomes one limited by the hegemony, digital codes, and sleek ergonomic design of technology. Damn, my laptop is svelte.
I know this all seems a little bit like millenium-style fear mongering, but I’m not totally down on technology. I think it’s, you know, a young tyke with a lot of potential or something. Or maybe just a digital reproduction of our regulated social reality, who knows? I also think it has some ups. For instance, a world dependent on technology, where the body is nullified or augmented by machines, destabilizes ideas of what is “natural.” Homosexuality or trans issues may be evaluated as lower on the barometer of “natural” morality in the real world as it is inscribed with deep-seated social norms which may not have as great a currency in the virtual realm. As Donna Haraway argues, cyborgs are not faithful to their origins. So far technology has been integrated pretty well into Western narratives of progress, or maybe technology is progress runaway with itself – it usurps the currency of the natural. And hey, that could be a good time, too.
Send your sci-fi doomsday porn to Julie at firstname.lastname@example.org. She loves that stuff.