E-mail sent from Elvis Little to the author of a book on cybersex; part of an exchange on the use of the internet to create a new school of dynamic, cooperatively-written erotic literature.

Elvis Little Explores Cyberomance

The following is a fictional irc-esque encounter based on my experiences using the nom de keyboard of "LostCat" on the #romance area. Names have been changed to protect the innocent, etc. etc.
* LostCat enters The #romance, looks around, and orders a saucer of beer
[LostCat] An Anchor Steam, please.
[Eerie] I want one, LostCat !
[LostCat] And one for Eerie, please. Put it on my tab. * LostCat lights up a stick of catnip. Fine gauge, from some cool cat over on #drugs.
* LostCat exhales
[LostCat] Nice place.
[Earwax] LC: Ooooh... catnip, my favorite.
[Earwax] dies of second-hand smoke
* LostCat feels its whiskers twitch, its tail stick out cockeyed to the side, its eyes burn -- pleasantly, like the first burn from spicy food.
* LostCat looks around, its ears twitching as if warding away insects.
The use of "it" as a pronoun is my compromise because I prefer not to give LostCat a gender. The English language doesn't have a good neutral gender pronoun that doesn't sound nasty and clinical like "it." Some people have suggested replacing "him/her" "he/she" and "his/her" with "tir" "te" and "tes" respectively for a true gender-neutral personal pronoun, but I don't expect this to catch on.
[LostCat] Wow... good shit.
[DarkCat] hello.
* LostCat says to the mirror behind the bar...
[LostCat] You know... It's hard to get a conversation started here.
[Eerie] #romance isn't such a bad place, when there are women around to romance...
By this time, Eerie has /who'd my alias and determined that I'm male, and therefore not the gender he's looking to romance... So I move on.
[LostCat] But I'm looking for some cat whose colors I can wear, whose cause I can champion, whose love I might never deserve, but whose honor I can respect.
* LostCat mourns that such a feline as this is not likely to be found in a dive like #romance.
[DarkCat] swats LostCat with her paw...
[DarkCat] :)
[LostCat] DarkCat, dear. Nice to see you here.
[DarkCat] :):)
[LostCat] Would you like a saucer of something warming here at the bar?
[DarkCat] swishes her tail and sits down with LostCat at the bar.
*** Eerie is now known as bartender
[bartender] Lost? Dark? what can I get you two?
[LostCat] A saucer of champagne.
[DarkCat] me also.
* LostCat looks in the mirror behind the bar. I'm not the kitten I used to be, it thinks.
[LostCat] Would you like me to talk to the bandleader about striking up a tune?
[DarkCat] So, come here often :-)
A frequent awkwardness in irc is that in the time one formulates a line of dialogue, the person to whom you are talking may have done the same, thus sending the train of thought onto alternate tracks.

I should note also that there are other distractions. Usually, #romance has one or two dozen people on it, all holding conversations. Often, one or two undergraduate boys are making fools of themselves competing for the attentions of the minority of women on irc. Sometimes this is done in private /msg commands -- which can cause some people to seem to vanish from the conversation while they respond.

*** bartender is now known as bandleader
[bandleader] A one and a two and a...
[bandleader] starts the band playing Blue Danube
[LostCat] No, in fact. I've just moved into the area.
[DarkCat] Yes, please. Some dance music, please.
* LostCat extends a paw
[LostCat] Would you care to dance?
* DarkCat extends her paw
[DarkCat] I'd love to.
[bandleader] The music swirls around the two dancers...
[LostCat] You dance well.
* LostCat feels the room expand, then shrink... then it seems as though it were only the two of them and the music.
[DarkCat] Thank you. * LostCat sees the lights reflecting from DarkCat's chatoyant fur, and wonders what it would be like to lie on a warm carpet in a sunbeam, watching lazily as she gave herself a bath, sharp tongue, sliding fur, and again...
[DarkCat] I love the waltz, don't you?
[LostCat] Yes. The strong beat, and the hidden one that comes up behind you like a surprise. It's the rhythm of life.
* LostCat worries that the champagne has gone to its head.
[bandleader] starts up the second movement.
Looking back at this, it looks kind of pathetic, since I'm putting so much more effort into building the scene than the others. It's a bit narcissistic. But it's paying off. "Eerie" has caught on and is starting to play parts in the drama. DarkCat is going along with the fiction.

When I stop thinking of myself as an inventor of these scenes, and more as a co-player in them, I can be more free in opening myself up to the feelings involved in the roleplaying. Could be exciting, could be a frustrating dead end. I think it has possibilities.

[DarkCat] licks LostCat's forehead.
[LostCat] Purrrrr....
* LostCat feels his fur stand on end as if he'd seen a pit bull.
But, look, I must have let my emotions get carried away. I got so distracted, I let my gender slip.
[LostCat] rubs its cheek against DarkCat's shoulder
[DarkCat] Purr.
[bandleader] The crowd feels the electricity of the two lovers on the dance floor transfer into it. C'mon folks, anyone else going to dance?

And now a few general comments about cybersex:

The classic picture of future sex shared today, and one that has even made it into the mainstream through Demolition Man, is that of one or more individuals hooked up to machines, which in a virtual reality sense, manipulate the inputs coming into the senses in a way which simulates sexual activity.

This seems to me to be nothing better than a high-tech dildo -- fun, but not really a major advance. I can imagine better things along this path...

I don't remember who said it, but "the most important sex organ is between the ears" -- it is the manipulation of iconic images that send jolts of recognition to the reptilian brain, more than just the pornographic sounds, sights, and vibrations of sex that turn a mild mannered Clark Kent into a quivvering mass of anticipatory panting.

Imagine a biofeedback system, giving its output as input to a neural network which produces the images the user sees, the sounds the user hears, and the tactile stimulation it controls. This neural network has one primary directive -- keep the lust meter rising. Maybe the smell of burnt toast works better than the smell of vaginal secretions for some people -- humans are funny. Let the neural network and biofeedback system do the decision-making, not some programmer with her/his own idea of what kinks work.

The technology for this sort of biofeedback already exists in incipient form, but in an unexpected place.

A child molester in treatment is hooked up to a machine via some sort of apparatus attached to his penis (what is done for female child molesters, I do not know). Pictures of children in different poses are shown to him, and his responses are measured and negative feedback is given if he shows signs of sexual excitement. This is both an investigative tool (which ages, sexes, and poses does the molester find most exciting?) and as a curative one (I have my doubts).

A more sophisticated future sex tool could work in a similar way, changing an iconic figure slightly and then measuring the response, then changing again, and measuring again, until the ideal erotic image is found -- an image that the user may have never seen before and that may be completely abstract, or fairly mundane.

But, on the other hand, my feeling is that this sort of technology will never really get off the ground to a society-transforming extent.

If this sort of disembodied sexuality were that appealing to people, some hard-working inventor would have created something better than the blow-up love doll with vibrating mouth and vagina -- the most high-tech virtual sex toy that currently exists, and one that has been in technological stasis for years now.

Sex is the taboo, and it is the exciting topic of conversation, but I think that it is probably a mask that covers a deeper taboo still -- romance, that complete losing of ones self in obsession, passion, love, in another person's soul. Sex is just the excuse for tempting fate.

Orgasms are nice (understatement :-), but also a dead end to a certain extent. Like with other addictions, the joy of orgasm starts to wear off as one orgasm starts to resemble the last and the next -- you're left with a drug that doesn't give you the same thrills, but still demands your attention.

To paraphrase: "All good sex is alike; every romance is unhappy in its own way."

What I've been toying with in #romance is fun in that it captures a part of romance (but can never catch all of it, unless it grows into something outside of #romance -- a possibility I cut off by not entering #romance except in the form of a cat who doesn't exist in the real world), requires a willing and consenting (and creative) partner, and can go over an enormous landscape of potential -- not just the limited and arid continent of synonyms for "penis" or the several hundred permutations of tab A in slot B.

So far, I've been treating it mostly as a literary exercise -- irc as a new canvas to paint words on. The interactive, transitive and real-time nature of irc make it challenging and new. Your comment about how the literature of correspondence opened up a new vista in victorian writing really rings true here. But in a sense, correspondence itself can be literature, even if there is no audience but the correspondants.

Similarly, irc activity can be artful, even if it disappears like a Tibetan sand painting or the Burning Man in the Black Rock Desert. Capturing it and then putting it into a book or magazine article takes away the part of it that is this new art -- like pinning a butterfly in a butterfly collection takes away the part of the butterfly that made it beautiful.

This isn't a slur on your book -- just my belief that irc won't spawn a "new" literary form outside of irc because what is "new" about irc can't be extracted and frozen.

Another aspect of this that I'll play around with here for a minute is the idea that as people in cyberspace take on multiple identities -- and if they maintain and identify with these identities, they'll be more apt to expand their range of sympathy.

For instance, if I have the persona of Elvis Little, the computer scientist, freelance writer, and researcher of 19th Century narcotics literature. And then I have the faux personae of LostCat, the lovesick feline, and (I'm making this one up) Elvira LaHombre, the fourteen year old sikh chess wizard whose father works for the government, and whose mother doesn't like her as much as her older sister, and then (I'm making this up, too) Robert Jordan, the war veteran who is hopelessly in love with a woman whom he cannot make happy...

...well, what can you do to flesh out and make convincing these personalities but to live in them for a while. To feel in one's brain what it is like to hear your mother talk about your sister in glowing terms, and you rarely but with contempt. To know that your war injury makes you ugly to the only woman you have ever loved. To tour the streets of Paris from a cat's-eye view -- dodging cars to get across the street to the Arc De Triomphe to watch the flag being raised in the morning, diving in dumpsters along the Rive Gauche, sleeping in Luxemborg Gardens. The more you feel these things, the more convincing your characters will become.

And the more different your personae are, the more distance they will be able to cover in cyberspace. A black conservative editorial cartoonist will draw into her circle a very different set of confidants than a white drug addict and blues harmonica player. And the more convincing these characters become, the more the player behind them will have to sympathize with their position, and the more that players sympathies will expand beyond him or herself.

Well, as LostCat might say, the catnip seems to have gone to my head...

-- Elvis Little