Erotic Computing

EC 1.3 (6/22/94)


by Douglas Davis, Ph.D.

Let's review the bidding: males and females seem to react differently to most aspects of personal computing and Internet hard' and software; and a cartoon like the one above evokes very different "projective" stories about female from those about male computer-users. The following story is prototypical:

The woman, Jen, has just lost her major psychology paper on the effects of computers on teaching in modern schools. She has called on her friendly neighborhood student assistant, Hank, to recover it for her.

She's helpless, he's helpful. She's in', he's competent. She loses at the keyboard, he finds. And the [are we in doubt about hir sex?] author of the story lets us know he's Hank by giving us some micro-detail:

Hank had very little time to waste. He donned his white hat and took the nearest security cart up to Stokes with his generator in the back seat. He hoisted the generator onto his shoulder and entered Stokes 8. There he started up the generator and hooked up the computer she was working on. Knowing that he had very little time before the generator's power supply fluctuated, he hooked up the computer and turned it on. Then, he entered the computer's hard disk drive directory. There he found a file called MW012345.tmp and printed it on the screen for Jen to see. Sure enough, it was the file. He changed the name of the file to IGOTIT.DOC, hooked up the laser printer to the computer, and printed out the document for Jen to turn in. The picture shows Jen's relief and joy at seeing the recovery of the file by Hank.

The man in the white hat's not Alan Ladd, but Hank the Nerd. But, like Shane, he performs for an attractive woman. From a psychodynamic point of view, we might note that this author is so eager to tell a story of the male pleasing the female by his cleverness that he misperceives the expression on the woman's face--or at least sees it as few subjects do. Why can't she be happy, as he so obviously is?

Another brief, ironic, story by a female self-consciously casts the gender difference in terms of the new psychology of gender:

The woman is upset because the man is spending all of his time at work on the computer and is not paying attention to her. The woman will remain upset in this stereotypical relationship with the man wanting to work and the woman wanting a relationship.

The women who act the role of Jen in these little soap operas our subjects construct are dismayed--if not actually imperiled--by the computer and the pleasure males seem to be taking in it--damsels in distress. For several of the young men who wrote stories, the artificiality of the picture and the testing session was scarcely an issue. They could get into the chair with the male at the console and see what he saw, right down to the sequence of DOS commands on the screen. For them the computer has become transparent to thought. They know women find all this hard to take; and they very much want women to approve of what they're doing. That's as important a part of geekiness as impressing the computer science teacher, and a much more exciting one.

Next week: Why are there so many gigabytes of disk storage, so many hours of on-line time, so many guilty tinkerings with graphics software devoted to digitized pictures of Cindy Crawford?


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


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