Erotic Computing

EC 1.1 (6/8/94)


by Douglas Davis, Ph.D.
At one of the first dinner conversations I had about personal computing, back in 1981 as I recall, a man I had just met told me he kept his Trash 80 in his bedroom, and he had taken to leaving the CPU on at night. He was a touch typist, and he had found he could go to the keyboard and type the content of a dream, fall back asleep, and wake to turn on the monitor and find ghostly messages from his unconscious. I found the idea quite exciting.

Welcome to Dr. Doug's weekly column on "Gendered Personal Computing." Or is it "Erotic Personal Systems"? "From Plastic Pocket Liners to Powerbooks: The Influence of Information Technology on Identity"? Yes, something like that. I think we're looking at a technology-mediated reworking of our society that will prove at least as significant as that effected by the internal combustion engine--but in a fraction of the time and with at least the possibility that we may be able to study and understand (if not influence) this process as it happens. I've been interested for a decade in the way personal computers evoke contradictory emotions in their users and in those who compete with the PCs for quality time with their owners. Computing has been from mainframe, card-reader, days a highly gendered business--that is, males do and like it more than females (even if they do it no better). Furthermore, doing it--rather than feeling the computer is doing it to you--calls up values having to do with masculinity/femininity, and even with sexuality. I want to write about the gendered, and also the erotic, sexy side of computing, in a way that engages the issues and points to the interesting example, but reads PG-13.

I've been at this a while: I bought my first personal system (an Apple II Plus) in 1981, and took it to Morocco for a year, where I kept a personal and ethnographic diary. I ran the UCSD p-System editor as a word-processor for five years, migrating gradually from the Apple to a series of XT-compatible desktops and laptops, and from DOS to Windows, before jumping ship for the Mac IIsi and Powerbook a couple of years ago--always looking for the right mix of tools and toys, of words and pictures, keyboard and pointer. The diary's 12 years deep now, and multimedia; and all my writing and teaching--and much of my play--suppose 24-hour access to keyboard, networks, and graphics screens.

Having navigated the Bitnet/Internet since VT100 days, I find WWW and Mosaic a dream come true: platform-independent Web-sites as "part-objects," which if I understand the term means sexy things that partly (at least in fantasy) do for us what face-to-face interactions do. What's "erotic" about a personal system? Well, it's designed simply to serve your needs, and these we have learned to dissemble about as we were raised. Anyone who could watch us using these systems could learn things about us we'd rather not share.

Next week: some pictures, and a study of sex-differences in fantasies about computers:


Douglas Davis, Ph.D. <ddavis@haverford.edu>


About the author ...

Copyright (C) Douglas Davis 1994. All rights reserved.