Erotic Computing

 
EC 1.2 (6/15/94)


by Douglas Davis, Ph.D.  


Back in the primitive, monochrome, VGA-only, DOS-days of 1989, I asked a group of budding psych majors to design and conduct a study of sex/gender differences in experience with and attitudes toward personal computing. We administered to dorm friends and neighbors here on the Main Line a short questionnaire asking for ratings of one's own general feelings about computing (from strongly negative to strongly positive), and then a self--rating comparison with other students of one's skill in word-processing, programming, computer gaming, e-mailing, and data-analyzing. For a first project with small samples (40 females and 30 males) the results were clear, if unsurprising: males reported significantly more positive attitudes toward computing, and they rated themselves as significantly more skilled overall and in each specific area except word-processing (all T-tests showing mean ratings different at p < .05).

It's the second part of the study that seem to me to illustrate the sex differences I mentioned last week. We asked our "subjects" to run on one of the department's computers a program (created by Websters' very own Managing Editor) that offered standard projective test (TAT) instructions to "look at the picture and make up a story indicating what led up to the events in the picture, what each of the characters is thinking and feeling, and what will be the outcome." Since this version of the picture has a distressed-looking female in the foreground and a figure most folks see as male gazing at the computer screen in the background, we expected stories about males as more enthusiastic/geeky/addicted vis a vis the computer. We also expected the female character to be seen as experiencing the computer as a competitor for the male's attention and affection. The results are less clean than those of the questionnaire (projective studies are like that), but the majority of the stories written by males and females seemed to agree with our pre-conceptions. Here are two examples:

#27: ... Just a few more strokes of the pencil, a little shading here, cross-hatch it there... Good, Keith Haring eat your heart out. An expression of modern electronically-induced angst all in one quick cartoonish picture. Now, what to put in the women's thought-bubble... Something that would express the loss, the abandonment of a woman scorned for a machine. Something about hell hath no fury... no, not quite campy enough, needs a little zing, make them think, and make them laugh. Hmmm.... maybe a little bit of camp lite, toss in the kinda fifties-ish reference. Say "Well, now that he's got [the computer] he'll be home more for Wally and the Beaver..." Yuck! Hmmmm..... I got it, "It's better than being a golf widow, at least he's home..." Still pretty bad, it needs some work.... "Honey, are you still drawing that damned cartoon... it's been hours... When are you going to be done?" "Oh damn!" # 55: As Steve worked on the computer, preparing the program that would decode the US' operating codes for the warships in the Gulf, and thus enable him to control the outcome in that war-torn region, Aurora, handcuffed to a metal pole ink the middle of the bare room, wept. "How could this be happening to me?? Less than one week ago, I had actually thought myself in love with this fiend! How could I have been so blind!?" The daughter of an extremely important military official, Aurora had met Steve Aaron, or so he had called himself, last week at a friend's party. They had gotten "better acquainted", and within a week, Aurora had, however inadvertently, mentioned the location of her father's safe, where all the warships' codes were kept. She had caught Steve in the act of stealing those files, and he had been forced to kidnap her. Now in an abandoned warehouse on the edge of town, Steve was busily putting the last of the codes in the computer. Soon, very soon, it would all be over. Suddenly, sounds of sirens were heard. "The police!" They were at the metal door, now banging it down. Steve leaped from the computer, reaching for the gun, but it was over. Aurora was rescued, all was safe. The End.

Seems to me there's a lot going on in these stories from the point of view of power and achievement--but is there anything to support their inclusion in a column on "erotic" computing? I think so, but time's up for now.

Next week: So, what are the underlying fantasies?

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

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Copyright Douglas Davis 1994. All rights reserved.