[LINK] TWT: How the sex industry has driven Google

Ben McGinnes ben at adversary.org
Wed Nov 10 22:32:01 AEDT 2010

How the sex industry has driven Google
Tuesday, November 9, 2010 12:46:00


ELEANOR HALL: Most of us are aware of the key role of the defence
industry in developing technologies like the Internet.

But a Canadian science writer is determined to expose what he calls the
"dirty secret" of technology history -- that many of our most cherished
communications advances were driven by the sex industry.

Patchen Barss' book The Erotic Engine explores the history of
pornography from cave paintings to the iPad.

His book has just been released in Australia and he joined me earlier
today from Toronto to talk about it.

ELEANOR HALL: Patchen Barss, you make some big claims for pornography's
role in driving technological change. Most people would know about the
key role of the defence industry for example in many new technologies,
but you say that we can thank the porn industry for even such everyday
conveniences as secure online shopping.

What role did it play there?

PATCHEN BARSS: Well that's a very interesting case where in fact when
we're talking about the Internet, it was the military - the American
military - who first developed the early Internet and it spread from
there to universities.

But the Internet as we know it, as a commercialised entity, that was
really driven by the pornography industry.

Essentially what happened was there were a lot of people who were
scrambling to figure out how to make money selling content online. A lot
of people forget how bad the technology was at the time. People were
very uneasy about using a credit card online, things like that.

And for some very basic reasons of convenience and anonymity, the people
who were really willing to make the investment in making that technology
go were the people who wanted to buy and consume pornography in a more
anonymous and private way.

ELEANOR HALL: And the development of the video industry, why was
pornography such a driver there. Was that also that issue of anonymity?

PATCHEN BARSS: Well it was a sort of a related issue of marginalisation
as well so in the 1970s people who watched pornography, if they wanted
to watch a pornographic movie at the time, they also had to go out to a
cinema but very often that cinema was in a bad part of town, they were
in danger of being spotted by someone they didn't want to be spotted by.

So when this new technology came along, and again the VCR was not a
pretty piece of technology, it was expensive and it was clunky and the
tapes were really undependable. But for that group, they thought, I can
watch a movie in my home, it's much more private.

And the people who are running those adult cinemas were thinking, I can
sell these much more discreetly and I don't have to deal with legal
challenges and community backlash.

So it was good for the producers and distributors as well as for the

ELEANOR HALL: Would you go so far as to say that Google owes its success
to pornography?

PATCHEN BARSS: I would say that Google owes a huge debt to pornography
and actually Google owes a debt in many different ways; everything from
the bandwidth of the Internet, the high speed Internet that we enjoy
today that was driven by demand for pornography and then a lot of
Google's advertising revenue actually still today comes from pornography

ELEANOR HALL: So if pornography is so important, why don't we generally
acknowledge it or even sometimes know about it?

PATCHEN BARSS: In some ways it's not really a puzzle, in some ways it's
a subject that people have very strong feelings about and a lot of
people have a great deal of difficulty talking about it and when I was
researching this, I didn't want to ignore things like exploitation and
sexism and violence that are realities of the pornography industry.

But those things can be true, and it can also be true that the industry
has had an influence on advances in technology.

So very often what happens is when a technology matures and when it's
ready for the mainstream, at that point its pornographic origins are
basically scrubbed from the story so that the people who use the
technology in the mainstream can enjoy it without having to think about
the fact that it owes some debt to the pornography industry early in its

ELEANOR HALL: Interestingly, the invention of the printing press was not
at least initially the boon for pornography that today we might expect.
Why wasn't it?

PATCHEN BARSS: Well that's kind of a very interesting juncture in the
history of communications and that's really the invention of mass
communications. So, before that erotica was abundant in the art and the
literature of each era but it was only the purview of the extreme
elites; those were the only people who had the education and the money
to possess those things.

The printing press opened the door to mass production of things, but
really it took a while before pornography really became a driving force
in the world of print.

ELEANOR HALL: Would it be fair to say that pornography has been more a
driver of technologies that have allowed for a more private and personal
version of communication like the Internet than mass communication?

PATCHEN BARSS: That's certainly been the prevailing trend for the past
50 years.

ELEANOR HALL: Now you make the claim that if we study pornography, we'll
see where communication technologies are heading. So what does today's
pornography, which is often extreme and violent, what does it tell us
about the future of communications?

PATCHEN BARSS: It tells us that there are going to be new technologies
that mainstream audiences are not going to be ready for, that will make
people feel uncomfortable, or they'll just be hard to use and it'll be,
once again, the pornography industry who become the early adopters, who
figure out how to create a market of users for those technologies and
keep them alive long enough to the point where they're ready for the

It's a little bit scary because it is an industry that makes many, many
people very uncomfortable and yet in all likelihood, there will be
revolutions in communications technology that ultimately benefit people
who have no interest in that world whatsoever.

ELEANOR HALL: Is there any example that you can think of that might be
coming to us some time in the next decade or so?

PATCHEN BARSS: Well here's an example of something that might be - and
that's the idea of so-called haptic technologies. So what that means is
most of the technologies that we think of today, they communicate either
sound or visuals or both. But haptic technologies communicate a sense of
touch, so motion or texture are communicated.

Right now, the pornography industry is experimenting with this in a
field, I hope it's okay to use this word; in a field called
teladildonics. So essentially, sexual communication via the Internet
using actual devices with heaters and motors and movers and that sort of

ELEANOR HALL: You're doing well for our radio audience thank you.


PATCHEN BARSS: So I will leave that description there and I'm sure even
that is enough to make some people feel very uncomfortable.

But the thing about it is, if you think about where that technology
might go when it does mature, it could lead to being able to conduct
surgery remotely using tactile feedback or being able to test the
ripeness of vegetables if you can't actually make it out to the grocery
store or to test drive a car.

ELEANOR HALL: And I wonder if the mainstream will this time acknowledge
its debt to the pornography industry?

PATCHEN BARSS: You know, I've got to say that my prediction is that
ultimately the pornographic origins will be scrubbed from the history again.

ELEANOR HALL: Patchen Barss, thanks very much for joining us.

PATCHEN BARSS: Oh it's my pleasure, thanks for having me.

ELEANOR HALL: That's Canadian science writer Patchen Barss, his book The
Erotic engine has just been released in Australia. And you can listen to
the full interview with the author on our website.

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