The internet has always been and always will be about sex

The first form of pornography shared on the Internet was probably through ASCII art. Before computer graphics became widespread, early adopters of the Internet in the 70s and 80s might have run across lines, dots, and lines on a screen in depictions of body parts with the middle “(.)(.) ” in an AIM chat in the third grade. As a technical journalist Samantha Cole writes in his new book, The Internet of Sex and How the Internet Changed Gender: An Unexpected History, “Anyone could do rough ASCII of breasts or stick-figure pinups, but it took a patient artist to make something line-by-line in realistic detail, like the touch of a keyboard loom.” That is: at every stage of the Internet’s history, people have become more and more creative in deviating from the main topic.

When Cole called to chat a few weeks ago, Elon Musk‘s Twitter handle just wrapped up, and we talked about his book’s thesis—that we owe some of our biggest innovations on the Internet to the persistent but ever-evolving needs of adult content—already has big implications for at least one. One of Musk’s reported schemes: creating a paid video service on Twitter. Also relevant: Kolu noted that the exodus of Twitter users who start looking for a new place to live is perhaps the only predictable feature of online life for anyone on the Internet, especially sex workers and adult content creators. digital migrations often revolutionize everyone’s technology along the way.

He’s talking to Cole downstairs Vanity Fair About the Internet’s long and uneasy relationship with sex—and despite all our technological advances today, we’re still faster, better, more correct connection.

Vanity Fair: Your book begins with all these stories of the proto-internet—the age of bulletin board systems, Geocities, and ASCII porn. What was it like to explore that era when the internet was so ephemeral? How does the Wayback Machine go back?

Samantha Cole: Not as far back as I’d like; I owe a huge debt of gratitude to the Internet Archive. It is difficult because many fall. Link rot is very real even from week to week. Then you look back 30 years and try to find the conversations people were having on the forums.

Is there anything that stands out to you from all this internet archaeology?

There’s a story I love on Usenet about people talking about having sex while scuba diving. This conversation ran from 1997 to 2020 and is probably still going on in Google Groups. I thought that was really funny because it was something that people continued to pick up on year after year.

Stacy Horn, who founded the Echo New York BBS in 1989, told me how Echo users can become really close friends. People would use it as a dating pool because they were all New Yorkers. Some got married and had children, and some divorced. And then they won’t be able to use the Echo anymore because it was so sad to see their past shipments. There was no way to mute or block people. That’s why I often had to delete him asking me, saying, “I’m so sad that I can’t see so-and-so’s post.”

Seeing Your Ex Online: A Problem Ever Since The Internet!

It is a very fundamental part of the Internet.

There have been some major recent developments that could affect the future of online communication. The first thing I want to ask you about is, of course, Twitter. Among the many things Elon Musk is playing for the future of the platform is one of them paid adult video feature. Mostly Just Fans, but on Twitter. Could this really happen?

This is definitely something that caught my attention. I don’t think anyone who came up with these ideas realized the extreme difficulty that adult websites can function as adult websites without even attracting an under 18 audience.

If they’re going to try it, they’re going to realize very quickly that discrimination from banks and all these payment processors that people use in the main system, things like Square, are not suitable for adult transactions. They will have to think like FOSTA/SESTA [the Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act and the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act, which became law in 2018 and amended Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, making websites liable for hosting content that facilitates or promotes prostitution]. All around them will be anti-trafficking people. It’s a Pandora’s box that people in the adult industry have been thinking about and working on for a really long time and advocating and solving these problems. Unless Elon miraculously decides to take advice and order from people in the adult industry, which I doubt, maybe it can take a hit.

But you know Twitter is already under attack from people who hate porn and hate sex on the internet in general. This is a real risk for him. And it’s a real shame to expose people who use Twitter to that risk – people who use Twitter to advertise their OnlyFans or clip sites and meet clients, things like that. Twitter is one of the last places where you can post adult content where you’re with everyone else; It’s not like the adult section of Twitter. With the caveat that Twitter takes pornography very seriously, your exposure applies to everyone. 13% of the site is porn or something, so it makes sense that he wants to make money. He’s in a world of issues that I don’t think he’s ready for. But that applies to everything he does.

The other big story in the news is the perhaps coincidentally timely announcement Tumblr is bringing nudity back-though not necessarily all NSFW content. Are these two queues related in any way?

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