Sometimes ago I wrote a long article for L’Espresso (in Italian) on the amazing and mostly underestimated role of Porn Industry in the development of Internet and its technologies. The same technologies and services we use everyday when we start a videochat , watch a video via streaming or check-in on services like Foursquare.
That piece wouldn’t be possible without an enlightening chat with Patchen Barss, a canadian journalist who has written about science, technology and culture for almost 20 years. In the following interview, the author of “The Erotic Engine“, describes “the powerful influence of pornography on advances in mass communication”.
Mr. Barss, let’s start explaining why and how the Porn industry can be defined as the “erotic engine” powering (among others things) the development of internet technologies.
It’s easy to forget how terrible Internet technology was in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Expensive, unreliable connections, complicated command-line interfaces and weird connection protocols. A million things could go wrong, and even when it all worked, it was painfully slow and glitchy. Looking back, it’s difficult to believe anyone stuck with the technology long enough for it to improve.
The people who put in the work to make the Internet go in those early days often did so because the reward was pornography – first text, then images, then video. Pornography created the demand for Internet access, and also created demand for higher speeds, more reliable connections, and better interfaces. Many estimates suggest that sexual content represented as much as 80 percent of traffic on the pre-World-Wide-Web Internet.
Does this apply everywhere or is it just a US phenomenon?
Online pornography usage statistics vary from country to country, but there is no doubt that pornography had a global influence on technological development.
Is this influence still working today, when porn actors are adopting web2.0 technologies to disintermediate porn companies and sell their “products” by themselves?
Pornography has its greatest influence on new technologies – it was more influential over the early internet than today’s online sphere. Once a technology becomes fast, familiar and easy to use, the mainstream tends to take over and push pornography to the margins. This, to some degree has happened to the Internet – obviously there is still a huge pornographic presence online, but there’s now much more of everything else.
You touch on a good point, though – today’s Internet doesn’t represent the end of technological evolution. As new communications channels evolve – Web 2.0, haptics, virtual worlds – pornography and sexual content continue to exert their influence. There will always be new forms of communication that are as unfamiliar and weird as the Internet once was, and the early adopters of such technologies will almost certainly use them for sexual purposes.