The idea began over beers. Johannes Grenzfurthner (of Monochrom) and friends wondered if the notion that porn drives technology really was true or urban myth. So, they decided, why not organize a public event and find out?
Arse Elektronika, a conference about technology and sex, came screaming into the world. "It was true," says Grenzfurthner. Everything he's seen in three years has confirmed that we do use sex to drive tech. "Mankind is a tool-using species and a sexual species and we can't forget that," he says, "Innovation has always been tied to porn." He went on to say that Gutenberg supported his bible printing habit with the next thing he printed—pornographic texts.
Through the time he's brought together academics, builders, and pornographers in a public discourse about the changing nature of sex, he's seen some remarkable things. The first conference covered how VHS may have won due to being more friendly to the porn makers, and the explosion in amateur photographic porn brought about by Polaroid cameras in the 1960s. The first cheap instant camera was conveniently, and perhaps self-consciously, called The Swinger, and they took to it.
During 2007 Monochrom evaluated one San Francisco DVD store's worth of money shots across all the store's movies, and estimated that the total sperm filmed was 72 liters. "Imagine how much sperm there is on the internet?" says Grenzfurthner, "We'd all drown!"
Arse highlights parallels between the DIY movement and the 'screw-it-yourself" community who build fucking machines at home, and span the range from kinky to Catholic. (Author Timothy Archibald documented one builder sells his machines, but will only sell to couples so they won't be used in sin.)
Grenzfurthner sees laws and ethics lagging behind how we can use technology to fuck each other. Virtual sex brings up questions about ethics and portrayal- when the 1997 remake of Lolita was filmed, the 15 year old actress had a 19 year old body to get around possibly legal problems in nude scenes, but that was not obvious to the audience.
He highlighted a French artist named Zeni who links sex and death over the net by having data from one place control the behavior of dildos in another. One vibrated whenever an earthquake of sufficient magnitude happened worldwide. A second vibrated with the incrementing of civilian body count in Iraq. Of that one, Grenzfurthner said "It was buzzing, and buzzing and buzzing and it made me sick. And was good."
Grenzfurthner sees a gender problem—that porn is still largely heterosexist and male, but technology can help. Women are increasingly interested in building and using fucking machines with no men needed to be part of the scene at all.
Others are looking at modifications that subvert and may ultimately destroy gender as we've had it until now. But for now, the amplifying process of technology on everything, not just sex, is still very hetero, male, and not always about everybody in the scene having a good time.
"The future is like the Jetsons, plus rape," says Grenzfurthner. "I like that better without rape, but you all know 4chan."
The Hackers on Planet Earth conference is an outsized 2600 meeting that happens every two years in New York. It's come a long way in its time, ideas of hacking expanding from software to hardware, society, food and even sex. Quinn Norton is reporting live throughout the weekend.