September 21, 2007

"This Is A Naked Lady" (It was 22 years ago today....)

anakedlady.jpgAn item from my way-back pages.

Searching for another item from the past I stumbled over this gem of mine from Wired 1.01: This Is A Naked Lady in 1993. That was when Wired was brand spanking new, unlike Wired now which is old and fusty. The article references a woman who once wrote a book for me in a life previous to my life writing articles for Wired #1. That book was published in 1985 which means it must have been contracted and edited in 1984. And that is a long, long, long stone-age time ago on the Internet. Still, it seems to me that this article from 1993 still has something to say today. If not, look at it as a kind of place holder from the time before the Web when everything seemed
To lie before us like a land of dreams,
So various, so beautiful, so new...

Behind every new technology
By Gerard Van Der Leun
Wired Issue 1.01 | Mar/Apr 1993

Back in the dawn of online when a service called The Source was still in flower, a woman I once knew used to log on as "This is a naked lady." She wasn't naked of course, except in the minds of hundreds of young and not-so-young males who also logged on to The Source. Night after night, they sent her unremitting text streams of detailed wet dreams, hoping to engage her in online exchanges known as "hot chat" - a way of engaging in a mutual fantasy typically found only through 1-900 telephone services. In return, "The Naked Lady" egged on her digital admirers with leading questions larded with copious amounts of double entendre.

When I first asked her about this, she initially put it down to "just fooling around on the wires."

"It's just a hobby," she said. "Maybe I'll get some dates out of it. Some of these guys have very creative and interesting fantasy lives."

At the start, The Naked Lady was a rather mousy person - the type who favored gray clothing of a conservative cut - and was the paragon of shy and retiring womanhood. Seeing her on the street, you'd never think that her online persona was one that excited the libidos of dozens of men every night.

But as her months of online flirtations progressed, a strange transformation came over her: She became (through the dint of her blazing typing speed) the kind of person that could keep a dozen or more online sessions of hot chat going at a time. She got a trendy haircut. Her clothing tastes went from Peck and Peck to tight skirts slit up the thigh. She began regaling me with descriptions of her expanding lingerie collection. Her speech became bawdier, her jokes naughtier. In short, she was becoming her online personality - lewd, bawdy, sexy, a man- eater.

"Sex without strings attached, sex without love..."

The last I saw of her, The Naked Lady was using her online conversations to cajole dates and favors from those men foolish enough to fall into her clutches.

The bait she used was an old sort - sex without strings attached, sex without love, sex as a fantasy pure and simple. It's an ancient profession whose costs always exceed expectations and whose pleasures invariably disappoint. However, the "fishing tackle" was new: online telecommunications.

In the eight years that have passed since The Naked Lady first appeared, a number of new wrinkles have been added to the text-based fantasy machine. Groups have formed to represent all sexual persuasions. For a while, there was a group on the Internet called, in the technobabble that identifies areas on the net, Most people thought it was a joke, and maybe it was.

Online sex stories and erotic conversations consume an unknown and unknowable portion of the global telecommunications bandwidth. Even more is swallowed by graphics. Now, digitized sounds are traveling the nets, and digital deviants are even "netcasting" short movie clips. All are harbingers of things to come.

It is as if all the incredible advances in computing and networking technology over the past decades boil down to the ability to ship images of turgid members and sweating bodies everywhere and anywhere at anytime. Looking at this, it is little wonder that whenever this is discovered (and someone, somewhere, makes the discovery about twice a month), a vast hue and cry resounds over the nets to root-out the offending material and burn those who promulgated it. High tech is being perverted to low ends, they cry. But it was always so.

"Sex, as we know, is a heat-seeking missile..."

There is absolutely nothing new about the prurient relationship between technology and sexuality.

Sex, as we know, is a heat-seeking missile that forever seeks out the newest medium for its transmission. William Burroughs, a man who understands the dark side of sexuality better than most, sees it as a virus that is always on the hunt for a new host - a virus that almost always infects new technology first. Different genders and psyches have different tastes, but the overall desire seems about as persistent over the centuries as the lust for bread and salvation.

We could go back to Neolithic times when sculpture and cave painting were young. We could pick up the prehistoric sculptures of females with pendulous breasts and very wide hips - a theme found today in pornographic magazines that specialize in women of generous endowment. We could then run our flashlight over cave paintings of males whose members seem to exceed the length of their legs. We could travel forward in time to naughty frescos in Pompeii, or across continents to where large stones resembling humongous erections have for centuries been major destinations to pilgrims in India, or to the vine-choked couples of the Black Pagoda at Ankor Wat where a Mardi Gras of erotic activity carved in stone has been on display for centuries. We could proceed to eras closer to our time and culture, and remind people that movable type not only made the Gutenberg Bible possible, but that it also made cheap broadsheets of what can only be called "real-smut-in Elizabethan- English" available to the masses for the very first time. You see, printing not only made it possible to extend the word of God to the educated classes, it also extended the monsters of the id to them as well.

Printing also allowed for the cheap reproduction and broad distribution of erotic images. Soon, along came photography; a new medium, and one that until recently did more to advance the democratic nature of erotic images than all previous media combined. When photography joined with photolithography, the two together created a brand new medium that many could use. It suddenly became economically feasible and inherently possible for lots of people to enact and record their sexual fantasies and then reproduce them for sale to many others. Without putting too fine a point on it, the Stroke Book was born.

Implicit within these early black-and-white tomes (which featured a lot of naked people with Lone Ranger masks demonstrating the varied ways humans can entwine their limbs and conceal large members at the same time) were the vast nascent publishing empires of Playboy, Penthouse, and Swedish Erotica.

"When a medium is created, the first order of business seems to be the use of it in advancing religious, political, or sexual notions and desires. ..."

The point here is that all media, when they are either new enough or become relatively affordable, are used by outlaws to broadcast unpopular images or ideas. When a medium is created, the first order of business seems to be the use of it in advancing religious, political, or sexual notions and desires. Indeed, all media, if they are to get a jump-start in the market and become successful, must address themselves to mass drives - those things we hold in common as basic human needs.

But of all these: food, shelter, sex and money; sex is the one drive that can elicit immediate consumer response. It is also why so many people obsessed with the idea of eliminating pornography from the earth have recently fallen back on the saying "I can't define what pornography is, but I know it when I see it."

They're right. You can't define it; you feel it. Alas, since everyone feels it in a slightly different way and still can't define it, it becomes very dangerous to a free society to start proscribing it.

And now we have come to the "digital age" where all information and images can be digitized; where all bits are equal, but some are hotter than others. We are now in a land where late-night cable can make your average sailor blush. We live in an age of monadic seclusion, where dialing 1-900 and seven other digits can put you in intimate contact with pre-op transsexuals in wet suits who will talk to you as long as the credit limit on your MasterCard stays in the black.

If all this pales, the "adult" channels on the online service CompuServe can fill your nights at $12.00 an hour with more fantasies behind the green screen than ever lurked be-hind the green door. And that's just the beginning. There are hundreds of adult bulletin board systems offering God Knows What to God Knows Who, and making tidy profits for plenty of folks.

Sex has come rocketing out of the closet and into the terminals of anyone smart enough to boot up FreeTerm. As a communications industry, sex has transmogrified itself from the province of a few large companies and individuals into a massive cottage industry.

It used to be, at the very least, that you had to drive to the local (or not-so-local) video shop or "adult" bookstore to refresh your collection of sexual fantasies. Now, you don't even have to leave home. What's more, you can create it yourself, if that's your pleasure, and transmit it to others.

"Quality isn't the primary criteria. Quality isn't even the point. ..."

It is a distinct harbinger of things to come that "Needless to say..." letters now appearing online are better than those published in Penthouse Forum, or that sexual images in binary form make up one of the heaviest data streams on the Internet, and that "amateur" erotic home videos are the hottest new category in the porn shops.

Since digital sex depends on basic stimuli that is widely known and understood, erotica is the easiest kind of material to produce. Quality isn't the primary criteria. Quality isn't even the point. Arousal is the point, pure and simple. Everything else is just wrapping paper. If you can pick up a Polaroid, run a Camcorder, write a reasonably intelligible sentence on a word processor or set up a bulletin board system, you can be in the erotica business. Talent has very, very little to do with it.

The other irritating thing about sex is that like hunger, it is never permanently satisfied. It recurs in the human psyche with stubborn regularity. In addition, it is one of the drives most commonly stimulated by the approved above-ground media (Is that woman in the Calvin Klein ads coming up from a stint of oral sex, or is she just surfacing from a swimming pool?) Mature, mainstream corporate media can only tease. New, outlaw media delivers. Newcomers can't get by on production values, because they have none.

Author Howard Rheingold has made some waves recently with his vision of a network that will actually hook some sort of tactile feedback devices onto our bodies so that the fantasies don't have to be so damned cerebral. He calls this vision "dildonics," and he has been dining out on the concept for years. With it, you'll have virtual reality coupled with the ability to construct your own erotic consort for work, play, or simple experimentation.

Progress marches on. In time, robotics will deliver household servants and sex slaves.

I saw The Naked Lady about three months ago. I asked her if she was still up to the same old games of online sex. "Are you kidding?" she told me. "I'm a consultant for computer security these days. Besides, I have a kid now. I don't want that kind of material in my home."

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Posted by Vanderleun at September 21, 2007 1:04 PM | TrackBack
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"It is impossible to speak in such a way that you cannot be misunderstood." -- Karl Popper N.B.: Comments are moderated and may not appear immediately. Comments that exceed the obscenity or stupidity limits will be either edited or expunged.

As Penn Jillette once said: "Shopping, sex, and shopping for sex propel all new technology."

Posted by: CGHill at September 22, 2007 9:29 AM

I remember well those heady "new media" days, and I probably have that first issue of "Wired" packed away somewhere. Thanks for the flashback. It was an interesting article from an interesting time.

Posted by: Jon at September 22, 2007 10:10 AM
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