A Point I Missed

The invaluable Cory Doctorow make an observation that is so obvious in retrospect that I feel ashamed.

It is almost a cliche that the erotic media industry is on the cutting edge of communications technology because for some reason they are particularly attuned to developments in technology, and are eager to implement these technologies.

Mr. Doctorow makes an obvious point, pr0n does not have a special affinity for technology, they use new technology because they have been excluded from more normal avenues for success.

They start on the next big thing because they have no alternative:

The sex industry has pioneered every new communications tool since the printing press: in my own lifetime, I’ve watched it take the lead in VCRs, desktop publishing, BBSes, digital text, digital images, digital videos, live streaming services, cryptocurrency, and VR. It would be easy to conclude that being interested in sex is somehow correlated with being fascinated by technology.

But that’s wrong. While there are lots of sex workers and sex industry participants who have an innate fascination with technology, there’s no reason to think that being into sex is a predictor of being into tech. And yet, sex workers are the vanguard of every technological revolution. What gives?

Well, think about the other groups that make up that vanguard — who else is an habitual early adopter? At least four other groups also take the lead on new tech: political radicals, kids, drug users, and terrorists. There’s some overlap among members of these groups, but their most salient shared trait isn’t personnel, it’s exclusion.

Kids, drug users, political radicals, sex workers and terrorists are all unwelcome in mainstream society. They struggle to use its money, its communications tools, and its media channels. Any attempt to do so comes at a high price: personal risk, plus a high likelihood that some or all of their interactions and transactions will be interdicted — their work seized and destroyed or blocked or deleted.

Using a new technology comes at a cost. If it’s 1979 and you’re Walt Disney Pictures, you’ve got no reason to explore the VCR. The existing system works great for you — and it works great for your audience. You can always find a movie theater willing to show your movies, your audience is happy to be seen entering that cinema, and the bank gladly accepts ticket revenues as deposits.

Once again, the old adage that, “Necessity is the mother of invention,” is proved true.

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