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cyberintimacy
Kathy Rae Huffman on Sat, 6 Jan 96 22:01 MET


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cyberintimacy



CYBER INTIMACY:  

>From Net Nookie to Coffee Talk



A presentation by Kathy Rae Huffman

at Interfiction, the Kasseler Dokumentarfilm- und Videofest

6. - 13. Dezember 1995  

http://www.uni-kassel.de/interfiction/





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 <and sometimes alongside of> 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 <the statistics are headlines in every major 

newspaper and news magazine>.   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 <or more> 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 

<and it is really somewhere>. 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>



BUT - WHAT ABOUT INTIMACY ON LINE ?   



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 <chatlandia>.  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  <but which always involve the proximity 

of the moment>.  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 

http://www.hilus.or.at    














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