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Chicks and Clicks
by S. Colby Phillips


A few months ago my parents were cleaning out the house they’d lived in for 20 years, preparing to move from Atlanta to Denver. I went over to help sort through the piles of crap (I mean family treasures) that accumulates over two decades. One of my best finds was a copy of the Playboy 25th Anniversary "Collectors Edition" issue, circa January 1979 that I used to sneak peeks at when my dad wasn’t home. I can remember quivering with the fear my mom was going to walk into the basement office any second, combined with the awe a twelve year-old boy feels in looking at naked women for the first time.

Instantly thinking "Antiques Roadshow goldmine", I brought it home with me and gathered friends around for great laughs at the twenty year-old magazine. Pre-silicone era mammaries, and a more relaxed attitude towards trimming the beaver’s whiskers were the features that stood out most among the centerfolds of yesteryear. And the ads! That white Lee denim pantsuit is going to look great on me when I drive my Renault Le Car over to my buddy Parker’s house to jam out to his new JVC reel-to-reel stereo and play Atari while we knock back some Boggs Cranberry Liqueur.

Twenty years ago, a magazine like Playboy was probably the most accessible form of pornography available. But like computing technology in 1979, we’ve come a long way baby. And the pornography industry has driven many of the early market adoption cycles of various forms of new computing technology (you could say the pornography and technology industries have progressed dick-in-hand together).

In 1979, the VCR was just coming on to the scene. The size of a small coffee table and weighing about 75 pounds, early VCRs were clunky and the initial movies on videotape were very expensive to buy. Most rental stores required you to join their "club" and pay up to several hundred dollars up front for the privilege of renting their movies. Not exactly a barrier-free market for many consumers. But the pornography industry took advantage of making viewing porno movies in the privacy of your own home cheap, easy and very discreet, and demand for VCRs and videotapes grew. Not since the invention of that shiny paper coating that is used to help "preserve" porn mags had the industry leapt forward so rapidly. By the mid-80s, once profitable porn movie houses were losing out because their patrons could watch the same movies while jacking off in the comfort of their own bed at home. The accessibility of porn on videotape also seemed to make it a little less dirty, and even the Ned Flanders of the world could enjoy the fruits of this revolution in total privacy and without their Sunday school class finding out.

CD-ROMs were also a medium adopted and carried forward by pornographers. Initially used primarily for large databases and directories, CD-ROM use for adult entertainment expanded as more computers came standard with CD-ROM drives and the multimedia capability to include video and music on the discs expanded. Hundreds of megabytes of video clips, interactive games, and thousands of still photos could be crammed on a CD-ROM. The porn industry again took an emerging media format and leveraged it as a new way to package their content and provide another new delivery mechanism for their wares - the PC. In just a few short years, the PC industry’s largest tradeshow, Comdex, became part porn-circus, and a back-area off the main tradeshow floor was established for the purveyors of porn and all of their naughty "soft"ware.

But no technology was heralded harder, faster and louder than the use of the Internet and the World Wide Web as a way to deliver the goods of the skin trade. With the Web, you didn’t have to watch your same old tapes or play with your same old CD-ROMs. You could go online and find hundreds of thousands of sources for pornographic content. And who couldn’t resist typing or into their browser just to see what would "come up." Now not only were the basic photos of nude women available at the click of the mouse, but the darker shades of the porn trade were brought to light. Anything and everything goes on the Web, and if you can type a keyword for it, you can find a sexual variation of it on the Web. The porn industry not only pushed the Web’s ability to store and index content, but also drove new Web technologies such as streaming media, interactive chat, and online newsgroups. The easy access of Web-based porn and the bandwidth that it consumed on the corporate network quickly led many companies to adopt anti-porn surfing rules for their employees.

Porn on the Web proliferated as fast as any other single genre of content, and not only drove new technologies but new business and marketing models as well. Some of the first online subscription services and pay-to-play environments were for porn sites. Porn marketers drove the initial use of email lists and spam to reach new audiences with their "Looking for barely legal hot virgins?" email come-ons. The online sex industry also spawned new products aimed at combating the delivery of its products. Web filters that parents, libraries and schools could install on their computers to keep their children shielded from porn Web sites were developed and became very popular with the Good Housekeeping crowd. All of this economic advancement in the name of getting off has not been lost on the real money players either. That grand dame of the sex industry Playboy is spinning off and taking it public, the latest dot-com to hear Wall Street’s siren song.

What will the porn industry’s next technological market advance be? One of the first implementations tried for virtual reality technology was virtual sex. The onset of AIDS and the continued proliferation of sexually transmitted diseases has certainly made safe, virtual sex an idea that has been taken seriously, though the main problem with virtual sex is the virtual part - it doesn’t really have the same feeling and meaning without a real partner. But you never know where the next "sexology" or "techxual" advancement may come from, and that nerdy engineer who is toiling away in some research lab may unwittingly become the industry’s next Steve Blowjobs. Subscribe Contact Us About Anvil Anvil Archives Anvil Home