From: (Kathy Rae Huffman)
Send reply to:
Subject: cyberintimacy
Date sent: 06 Jan 1996 20:23:42 GMT
Organization: THE THING vienna


From Net Nookie to Coffee Talk

A presentation by Kathy Rae Huffman

at Interfiction, the Kasseler Dokumentarfilm- und Videofest

6. - 13. Dezember 1995

Everything CYBER is seductive.
It is the beginning of the virtual age, and as Sandy Stone describes it --

...this is the gradual change that has come over the relationship between a sense of self and the body, and the relationship between individual and group....

she calls it a virtual age,
not because of virtual reality hardware,
but because the accustomed grounding of social interaction in the
physical facticity of human bodies is changing.

Some of the ways which we establish intimacy - especially how men and women communicate with each other, are important implications of the mediated communication environment we are beginning to inhabit. The works by artists I site serve as a critique of Internet communication - they all react to CYBER in informed, and sometimes humorous way. The ease of contact and free access to information has brought attention to the ON LINE availability of pornography -- and has created CYBER SEX as one of the sensational mass media issues of the year. It will also become one of the most profitable industries in the years to come. Therefore, the subject of CYBER INTIMACY - when considered and discussed in this context - is loaded with social and political implications.

CYBER generally refers to the realm of data flow - the digital flow of coded information transferred between physical locations: between individuals, institutions, organizations, and governments. The definition of the actual SPACE is no where yet clearly perceived, but William Gibson, CYBER- grandfather, described it more than 12 years ago in Neuromancer as a 'consensual hallucination'. What is important in Gibson's description is not so much the hallucination but the recognition of the CONSENSUAL aspect of CYBERSPACE


ON LINE, individuals have a platform for consensual communication, fantasy, and game playing - in addition to data flow and business. Approximately 20 million persons are involved in communicating in this parallel ON LINE reality on a regular basis - and this number is growing exponentially . In addition to direct ON LINE experience, everyone who uses a telephone, a bank card, and especially credit cards ... leaves a blazing data trail in the net ! The Critical Art points out that our parallel Data Body --or the body without organs-- has the potential to live forever. As coded entities, we all have the potential to be immortalized -- and to exist throughout eternity --in CYBERSPACE.

The question about how to personalize one's identity, one's persona is important. There is relative ease in the sending and receiving of e-mail, it can be quite spontaneous, so how we emote our feelings or reactions are with words alone - and with symbols - furnishes all the underlying enthusiasm for the ideas, and the direction of the communication. CYBERSPACE provides a place for the body without boundaries, and the interconnection of individuals with machines is an essential element of CYBER theory. This discussion is being articulated by many theoreticians, artists and scientists, who seek answers for survival and understanding of our human position, and relationships in the future. Many ask the rhetorical question, that as more and more high technology surrounds us - is the need greater for more human touch?

Arthur Kroker, who talks about a recombinant culture in his book SPASM - frequently cites Baudrillard. He also refers to CYBER SEX as ... floating sex, saying it is

A time of the floating tongue, memories, desires, and cold s seduction. Pure sex without a content.

One new, but widely seen work in festivals and exhibitions internationally demonstrates the telematic presence is possible in an interactive installation. TELEMATIC DREAMING by Paul Sermon, a British artist residing in Leipzig connects two distant sites to allow two people to share the same bed - and one can see oneself laying together with another person - normally a stranger -via ISDN lines and video projection. The level of intimacy obtained from the visual presentation of the bodies side by side - or even superimposed - provides an eerie sensation that the phantom body is real . This is a remarkable demonstration of our ability to project and evoke fantasy from distant reality.

In SEX/MACHINE <1995>, a new work for German television by Gusztav Hamos, explores the relation of humans to machines. In this 51 minute video made for ZDF/Arte, Hamos features prominent artists, psychologists, and scientists. One short excerpt with Arthur Kroker, also features STELARC, and is followed directly with a discussion with Kathy Acker - noted bad-girl writer/poet.

6 minute excerpt.

STELARC, who is engaged with modifying the body to tele-transmit across boundaries, to establish connectivity in the most personal sense, shows the realization of a fantasy becoming a reality. In his new ON LINE performance FRACTAL FLESH-SPLIT BODY (Voltage In/Voltage Out) - a work which he actually allows his body to be manipulated from remote sites, provides a demonstration of his concept that as part of the evolutionary crisis, machines can now surpass the human body. He accomplishes this with a series of pre- programmed choreographed movements that the viewer triggers, allowing voltage to be sent to the large muscles masses - activating involuntary movement.

An earlier attempt to bring bodies into more direct physical contact over distance - was evoked in the project CYBER SM PROJECT <1993-94> by Stahl Stenslie and Kirk Wolfrod . This tele-sensual interactive experience demonstrates that the desire and capability to transcend the physical boundaries are possible with virtual capabilities.

play 2.30 minute demo excerpt....1994.

But, Stenslie also emphasizes that the virtual is perhaps as seductive. He writes

" virtual bodies are the bodies we don't know...they are mutating, evaporating, and recombining into multiple virtual identities.....liquid and ever-changing. The body of the future will adopt to the strong schizophrenic-like fabric of CYBERSPACE....

There remain --however-- primary boundaries for most people between men and women - and between the real and the virtual. These boundaries are evident in the spaces and places that we inhabit in the physical world - as well as in the parallel ON LINE reality of Internet. This fact is very visible in the areas of the Internet devoted to personal contact - sometimes called dating or chat rooms, but they usually host a number of participants who are interested in sexual topics.

Because these same participants also have been found to "lurk" in the so- called safe areas of the Internet, we have been warned that the Internet is not safe for children or Presbyterians. But the pornography that exists ON LINE- and there is plenty of it - was created by the scores people who inhabit it daily, and it closely resembles the more widely accepted and accessible phone sex services and X-rated magazines. The various locations on the net dedicated to CYBER SEX are among the most popular on line sites - and they provide pictures! They also give even the smallest most obscure deviancy a voice. Most allow their users to participate by sharing their fantasies - photos and experiences. In fact, almost anyone who wants to today, can create home porno shop.

The number of URL's with erotic content for personal and commercial WWW sites or for on line shopping for sex toys and services - increase daily. A recent web subject search I ran in August produced a list of 2000 related sites - with hundreds of thousands of users tabulated - or hits - noted, the tabulation of the daily logging-in of users. On Dec. 1, I ran the same search, and came up worth 3,800 sites - a fairly large increase - definitely, interest in the Wild Thing on-line is in evident in outrageous proportions. Before you take off on a sex-surfing expedition - let me warn you about another aspect - the large majority of sex related URLs are pay-per-view. Now we have ON LINE sex, which is closer to phone sex and adult cable TV.

Additionally, girls be warned - the majority of these sites are related to male fantasy, i.e.: they are photo pin-ups, nude ladies, with site titles like BUBBLE BUTTS, the biggest boobs on the net, and many have outrageous come-ons like, THE BEST SEX ON THE NET - BETTER THAN REAL LIFE. It is no wonder that the statistics show a significantly higher number of men involved in ON LINE sex - than women.

The perception of the self and the other in CYBERSPACE is a galvanizing issue. Studies by linguists and psychologists have shown that -- physiologically-- men respond to erotic visual stimulation. While, on the other hand, women prefer to talk, and they respond intimately by the closeness established verbally with another person. If we believe what these statistics show us, that the Internet is currently dominated by men of high sexual energy, between the ages of 18-40 years old - then we have some kind of interesting situation which might explain why the massive number of nude pictures of women are established on WWW.

But not all men on line are looking for women! A teen computer club in Los Angeles provided the opportunity for Leroy Vaughn to find his community. In this 2 minute video work, we can understand better how scores of isolated people - who are out of place in many respects around the world - find friendly support and some personal links to a wider community

play MODEM BOY <1995>

As a quick overview, the spaces, or the ON LINE areas where people regularly engage in intimate communication include:

1. communication spaces - which are listserv discussion lists, Usenet groups and private electronic mail

2. interaction spaces - which include MUD*s MOO*s (where private and group communication can take place within described boundaries of CYBERSPACE), and Internet Relay Chats,

3. information spaces - which include popular WWW sites, many of which are becoming *interactive*, and gopher texts. The additional capability for sound and pictures, movies and 3-d in WWW has increased their popularity and attractiveness.

In a critique of communication space, artist Rebeca Bollinger has created the work ALPHABETICALLY SORTED, which she describes as an ON LINE artifact. The scrolling text is a library of *keywords* directly downloaded from CompuServe. These keywords function as a text- based navigational map used to define and describe graphic files residing in an area of the service known euphemistically as *Plain Brown Wrapper* where female nudes are commodified and transmitted as data. The text is alphabetically sorted and spoken by Victoria High Qualiaty, a really high quality speech synthesis program generating algorithmically constructed inflections.

play video - 5.37 min. <1994>


Intimacy in the communications spaces I have just described, range in practice from the mildly flirtatious to the more direct, including actual text-based NETSEX. The boundaries of "flirtations" are often unclear and left for interpretation. Provocation is part of the ON LINE communication process. The fact that Internet provides a very fast, and a very seductive link to others allows one to go directly to ideas and concerns. This is a significant factor in establishing an on-line connection, and the exchanges can be quite rapid. ON LINE intimacy is achieved differently than intimacy in real life - but it still depends on the real person's ability to build fantasy.

To define "intimacy" is quite important, because it is connected very strongly to real, daily life. Because the term "CYBER" is still linked to the physical space we inhabit, which we must call "real" - because - we can't presently escape so easily in real life, like, we can't just LOG-OFF when we tire of a staff meeting, or when a domestic argument occurs - that is if we want to stay our of a mental hospital..

Intimacy refers to the various forms of private, and physical connection, and individuals make with one another - it is human contact, and, contact that is familiar.

Most people consider intimacy to be romantic and of an "ideal" nature,

But, intimacy does not necessarily mean only contact that is sexual.

Friendship is perhaps the most important intimate connection we have as individuals.

In its fullest sense, people who are "intimate" link to the deepest and most meaningful moments of human experience - moments which they seek to share.

and, Intimacy allows for a secure and fearless sharing of the worst fears one has, along with the highest hopes one can imagine.

To establish intimacy in CYBERSPACE, one must be willing to loose one's physical body and find one's CYBER identity "within a common mental geography -- in the realm of pure information." according to Michael Benedict, in his CYBERSPACE: First Steps.

This concept is the initial step to understanding the constructed dichotomy between the real and the virtual, and the question is at the core of much of the commentary on CYBERSPACE -- and CYBER SEX -- which can be reconfigured as the

-- real permanent/physical body versus the

-- -- -- --

-- virtual/temporary/constructed body.

In an attempt to represent the on-line discussions in an inter-relay chat line (IRC) on the Internet, Julia Meltzer and Amanda Ramos created an audio installation called . The audio was taken from hours of transcripts of actual IRC sessions. There were originally six different tracks, of several people in conversation with each other, which were amplified through six sets of small stereo speakers. The conversations speak of lust, intimacy, spunky women and what *Desiree* wants....calling into question the division between humans and machines.

This artists' critique of how CYBERSPACE functions as social space is explored -- and they ask "How is individual identity expressed on the Internet, and does it offer a real or imagined place to explore multiple personalities and desires"?

play audio excerpt - 8 minutes <1995>

In reality, for most people, CYBER SEX involves heavy visualization and fantasy that extends beyond one's sensibility with contact of the corporeal functions of touch, smell, and taste . It depends heavily upon memory and motive. ON LINE intimacy has created a new use of language - with new words - and new syntax - and corresponding new levels of understanding. And, language as the driver of thought - which Wittengenstein has well defined - will impact society, and humanity will evolve with the new lingo found in ON LINE communication.

What about the lack of women on line? If it is true that only 10% of the existing on-line voices are women - an obvious imbalance exists that takes on serious proportions and is responsible for inhibiting women from participating as vocal partners --in significant numbers -- in intimate ON LINE dialogue, especially in group chats MOOs and MUDs. There are real reasons - women earn less money, women do not have jobs where they have as much unsupervised time at computers, at home, women are generally the caretakers of children (and husbands), and, women do not spend their disposable income on computers and modems.

CYBER Intimacy is a natural sensibility for the females who do inhabit the ON LINE world. This is a growing development, and women who use Internet find it an empowering and intellectual endeavor. Because women -- generally-- are focused on connection rather than status and failure, intimacy is a central factor in the communication links they form - real or virtual. Dr. Deborah Tannen, one of the few linguists who finds intimacy to be "key in the world of connection," says that although all individuals negotiate complex networks to develop friendship, intimacy - for women - it is the act of having close, familiar, private, and meaningful relationships. In on-line relationships, the environment for intimacy is primarily conversational, where women are in the more dynamic --and natural-- in the role as communicators.

In the ON LINE communication links formed by women, the act of assuming superiority is a negative assumption - as it is in real life. For men, however, Tannen points out that communication is primarily used to establish status - which equals their independence. This promotes the male to give orders - elevating his idea of status even more. Connection and intimacy to women means: we are close and the same. This is also the ground of the net world discussion groups - and the bottom line for access for all.

One development is CYBER feminist ideology-- a term coined by Dr. Sadie Plant, which is practiced by artists like Linda Dement (Australia), VNX Matrix (Australia), Christine Tamblyn and Lynn Hershman Leeson (USA). CYBER feminism declares a relationship between women and technology to be a normal and natural liaison, and provides a positive and female centered theoretical position for communication and expression. What is extremely important is that this an ON LINE development for new areas of communication between technically literate women. There are an abundance of intellectual and sexy home pages for CYBER-chix, Riot Grrrls, Techno Whores, Geek Girls, Bit Witches, and Sexy Babes --of many varieties-- who shamelessly reveal that they are girls with modems, and they know how to use them. CYBER babes are talking to each other, and teaching each other They are women communicating with women in the age-old female act of sharing experiences, and supporting one another, not in the kitchen but in the new electronic kitchen-communities.

In conclusion, if ON LINE connectivity and intimacy is established via consensual and non-hierarchical text - which is more female in nature - but when the majority of users are men - how does this figure? Are men becoming communicators in a feminine manner? Are men learning to relate in non-status terms? The reported incidence of many, many men posing as women ON LINE also brings up the fact that many men are talking to each other - with a fantasy based intimacy as women - yet enjoying the heterosexual attention from men.

Likewise, the women who regularly inhabit electronic space often find it necessary to represent themselves as men - to escape the harassment of chat requests, or the persistent aggressiveness of men who find them "there for using". Because in ON LINE situations, men reportedly act very much as they do in real life. Therefore, seeking coffee talk and consensual problem sharing, many women simply join closed women-only news groups, including a growing number of Lesbian orientated BBSs, many which ask for some proof of gender!

Most women report feelings of hostility towards men who lie about their gender, and who enter discussions as women -- and furthermore, women can generally spot a man in disguise by the manner in which he addresses her - or the group. But everyone agrees that by entering female only domains, this can slowly help men to learn more cooperative methods of communication, more consensual, and more tactics that are group orientated in practice than the typical male style of hierarchical use of language to establish power positions and status.

The cross gender issues presented in Lynn Hershman Leeson's work, DOUBLE CROSS CLICK CLICK --made this year for ZDF/Arte-- features one of the Doynnes of CYBERSPACE Sandy Stone. In this video, one of the legendary male ON LINE cross-dresser made famous in a MS. Magazine article is recalled. "Alex" was originally the male doctor who represented himself as a physically challenged woman in the early years of ON LINE discussions. He described his motivation to represent himself as a woman in order to "understand" women. ON LINE and off line, this created a backlash of hostility among his former "friends" and intimates. Lynn creates a modern story of cross-dressing, an updated romance that deals with the problems women and men face in ON LINE communication with each other.

Play DOUBLE CROSS CLICK CLICK......28.30 minutes <1995>.

end of program

copyright 1995 by Kathy Rae Huffman

not for commercial use, republishing only with permission