Of Facebook and Porn

Mashable

image credit: Mashable

Much debate has been going on lately surrounding the idea of whether Facebook is actually killing online porn. Although the idea has been around for almost a year and a half on Mashable, it looks like that it is just now with the recent publication of Bill Tancer’s Click: What Millions of People do Online and Why it Matters that people debate about it. Many say no, that it is only a matter of statistics, that people still surf for porn but use other mediums to find it (e.g. UGC sites like YouPorn or P2P networks), etc. And although I tend to agree with those who say no, I still consider it nevertheless important never to underestimate the changing ways of online communication.

The question is not whether porn is dying or not — while piracy may be killing the big industries, I am sure that people will still be looking at online porn for a long time. The question is why are people so attracted to other things that are not porn at all? This is not meant to be an ironic comment — when you think about it, unless you’re serious about using them as a professional networking tool, social networking sites and MMOs barely have more productive things to generate than online porn. So why go for social networks at all?

The typical answer is of course that we wil always still need social connections. But is not the opposite rather true — we are getting more and more tired of real social connections, and we leave it up to the web to do it for us? The logic of the Žižekian interpassive subject applies all too well — with Facebook, we can just add a friend and forget about making a real connection with her/him without feeling guilty about it! Is this not why we love the social Web in first place — because talking and connecting in real life needs too much effort?

Pornography, I would claim, has the same logic. Recall the standard implicit moral disclaimer that real-life sex will never be as good as pornography (it is much more awkward, has so much more bad sounds and smells and unpleasant tactile sensations, we have to constantly negotiate our partner(s)’s bad taste remarks, etc…). Is this not why we can enjoy watching pornography without feeling jealous to the people behind the screen — because we know perfectly well that, if we are in their place, having the real experience, things may not turn out as good as our fantasies? Cybersex is much less tiring than real sex, but nevertheless fantasy can be sustained just as well. The computer already reach orgasms for us.

How, then, should we read the correlation between the rise of Facebook and the decline of porn into the mainstream Web? It is not the usual one that maintains how the Internet is finally put into better use by having less LOLcats and porn. Nor it is the other usual skeptic one that argues that porn is not declining at all, but moving into another realm of the Web, as it were, as mentioned above. My thesis here is much more pessimistic: I would claim that this only proves that we are not only satisfied with externalizing sex so that we do not have to do it (and whenever we do it we need more and more enhancements to keep up with our fantasies and be able to forget the dirty, tiring, awkward parts — dildos, cocaine, viagra, anal beads… — to such extent that there are no longer “real” sex), but that we now find more and more an injunction to externalize our human connections — to “map out [online] every possible human connection” we have, as Mark Zuckerberg famously put it.

I should warn once again, however, that all this is not even meant to be a criticism of the social Web, but a pointing out of its strength. If anything, I will be the first person in any room of skeptic intellectuals who would shamelessly say out loud that he loves technology outright — I am far from being a technophobe; one could even call me a Promethean. Let us just not have too much illusions about it — but neither too much illusions of what the subject essentially is.

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