Augmented Reality: Going the Way of the Dildo

The Great Epidemic of Pornography"The Great Epidemic of Pornography"(Reposted from Sociology Lens)

While the term “augmented reality” uttered in a sexual context might immediately conjure the perennial problematic of the boozed, buzzed, and befuddled (commonly referred to as “beer goggles”), more nuanced analysis may prove fruitful. Fellow Sociology Lens news editor, nathan jurgenson, recently argued in “towards theorizing an augmented reality” that we need to anticipate an ascending paradigm where “digital and material realities dialectically co-construct each other.”

To anticipate this new reality, I argue that we ought to turn to another trend in consumer culture that has prevailed for several decades. Pornography and the sex industry have consistently been a bellwether for future technology adoption in the population writ large. Remember polaroids, VCRs, camcorders, DVDs, and high definition television? Sure you do. Ever wonder why so many of our parents and grandparents bought these items so early on, even though they were expensive and still largely untested? They were probably producing and consuming pornography. Yep, that’s right: porn. Okay, so, some people had other motivations. The conspicuous consumption of such commodities certainly confers a form of social capital which appeals to many. Yet, ample evidence exists indicating that the pornography industry has influenced the adoption of a wide range of technologies (see citations below). Even the founder of Wikipedia and one of Time Magazine’s most influential people, Jimmy Wales, began his entrepreneurial career leveraging user-generated content for profit by hosting a series of user-generated porn web rings.

Porn is generally cheaper and easier to make than other content in a given media. It can be distributed quickly and has always been a very prosumptive industry, meaning consumers like to produce and producers like to consume. For these reasons, the porn industry is incredibly prolific. Being such a fecund sector of the economy, pornographers are quick to capitalize on new possibilities. So, it’s no surprise that the implosion of the material and digital worlds is happening early and visibly in the sex industry.

For example, a company named OhMiBod released a vibrator which converts the music from your iPod into motion. Various virtual dolls, strippers, and dancers can be conjured onto different surfaces of your home with a combination of new programming and a webcam. Mutsogoto is a technology which allows distant partners to interact by drawing on each other with rays of light.

Probably the most significant realization of augmented reality in the world of pornography is, however, a cyborgian line of technology known as teledildonics. To understand this term, force your memory back to the “sex scene” in the 1993 film, Demolition Man, where Sandra Bullock and Sylvester Stallone don helmets to do the “wild mambo.” Current technology might not send erotic signals directly to your brain, as in the film, but teledildonics are characterized by digital communication that results in physical stimulation. For example, a product shamelessly named “the virtual hole” interfaces with a computer via usb and has several motors, mimicking various motions in specially coded videos. It can also work in tandem across a network with a “virtual stick” connected to another computer. The Wiibrator, a similar hack for the Wiimote is being demoed. A “kissphone” is also in the developmental stage. Finally, 3Feel is a massive multiplayer online game (currently in beta), where adults can create 3D avatars and engage in sexual activity with one another (with or without the use of teledildonics).

Of course, the more important (if less titulating) overarching question, here, is not what these technologies do for sex, but how these kinds of technologies—once integrated into various other facets of our lives—are likely change social interaction and organization. Pornography is a window to the future.

For more examples of how pornography has driven the adoption of technology, see the 2002 NPR report, “Is Pornography Driving Technology?;” Jonathan Coopersmiths’s papers “Pornography, Technology, and Progress” and “Sex, Vibes, Videotape: Sexuality and Electrical Technology in the 20th Century;” The Ideas with Wings broadcast, “Sex Drive;” and the American Heritage Magazine article, “When Sex Drives Technological Innovation.”

Square-eye “Consumer teledildonics update: HighJoy alive, Sinulator dead; plus, Virtual Sex Machine and RealTouch,” by Regina Lynn

Square-eye “The Cyborg’s Dilemma: Progressive Embodiment in Virtual Environments,” by Frank Biocca

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