Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Stage Five Clinger

For the past two years, New York magazine has been publishing online sex diaries that also highlight the role that ubiquitous communication technologies are playing in urban casual sex practices. As the magazine points out, there is even an iPhone app for gay men to help them find a geographically convenient hook-up. Writer Wesley Yang explains how mixed reality cruising works with new distributed computing practices.

The social technologies that assist in dating and mating today are more than palliatives—they’ve changed the nature of the game. If the cold approach is more than you can deal with, put up a Craigslist ad, or join OkCupid, Manhunt, or Nerve. If the phone call makes you nervous, send a text message. And while you’re at it, send a text message to a half-dozen other people with everyone’s favorite late-night endearment: “where u at?” If nothing works out and you find yourself alone at home again, simply fire up XTube or YouPorn and choose from an endless variety of positions to help you reach a late-night climax.

Virtually everyone under the age of 30 has grown up with their sexuality digitally enhanced, and the rest of us are rapidly forgetting the world before we all were hooked into the same erotically charged network of instantaneously transmitted messages and images. This must be true across the country, but it seems particularly suited for a city as dense, morally libertine, and sexually spirited as New York. Part of the promise of this city has always been that there’s another prospective partner a subway stop away, but not until recently could that partner interrupt your daily business with a cell-phone snapshot of their parted thighs. And of course, the same technology that makes it easier to score also makes the sexual boast or confession easily transmissible to millions of other people.

Today, in "Cellphones, Texts and Lovers," New York Times columnist David Brooks analyzes the diaries and puts forward a hypothesis that seems somewhat at odds with his conventional championing of the free market, because in arguing that technology is compromising the "recurring and stable reciprocity that is the building block of trust" he also appears to question the ideology of choice and unregulated consumption that appeals to many neo-libertarian conservatives of his own party.

People are thus thrown back on themselves. They are free agents in a competitive arena marked by ambiguous relationships. Social life comes to resemble economics, with people enmeshed in blizzards of supply and demand signals amidst a universe of potential partners.

The opportunity to contact many people at once seems to encourage compartmentalization, as people try to establish different kinds of romantic attachments with different people at the same time.

It seems to encourage an attitude of contingency. If you have several options perpetually before you, and if technology makes it easier to jump from one option to another, you will naturally adopt the mentality of a comparison shopper.

(Thanks to Ava Arndt for the link!)

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