BROOKE GLADSTONE: From early photography to the VCR to streaming video, advances in communications technology have often been driven by the popularity of porn. Look no further than the Internet, where the virtual red light district shines so bright that nearly anyone online is left a little pink.
But Regina Lynn, a sex and technology correspondent for Wired.com, argued recently that, as a whole, the adult content industry may actually be losing its techno mojo, falling behind in the current online environment known as Web 2.0, which enables us not merely to consume content but to participate in shaping it and form communities around it. REGINA LYNN: Anything from rating the content, allowing users to take existing content and mash it up and create new movies and things, contests - you know, everybody make a minute-and-a-half porn movie out of all of this material. They add a bit of play and a bit of game and just a lot of interaction into it. I mean, it's basically taking porn and making it relationships.
For the main industry, it's really hard to incorporate that because you've got to think a whole new way. You have to think of your users with respect and as sort of partners in the whole experience versus sheep that you're fleecing. BROOKE GLADSTONE: But if, as you say, the engine driving the Internet these days is focused more on community or participation with content rather than just on simply providing content, why do you think the porn industry is falling behind? Is it just because it's all about money for them? REGINA LYNN: It is more complicated than that. There's just some catch-up to do. I think porn is very cheap to make. You can get some people together and make it in a day for a few thousand dollars. When you start having community involvement, you need to have people on the sites monitoring things, maybe moderating things. You need to have your talent on the site doing chats and interacting with users and things like that.
So there's more organization that a lot of porn companies aren't set up to do because they just make videos, churn them out, burn them to DVDs or post them on the Web, and out they go. BROOKE GLADSTONE: So there's more expense, there's more organization. But aren't there also some legal barriers to increased participation with porn sites? REGINA LYNN: Yes. And I think that's probably the biggest hurdle - the detailed records that a porn producer needs to keep that prove that all of the talent is 18 or older at the time of filming and their home addresses and all these different pieces of information that get really hard to wrangle if you have a site where users can come in and post their own videos of themselves. And so I don't think we know quite yet how the adult industry is going to handle that. BROOKE GLADSTONE: But you say that there are some enterprising sites that seem to have gotten around some of these restrictions. REGINA LYNN: There are some. I don't know if they've gotten around them or just haven't been caught yet. [LAUGHTER] But there are ways to do it. For one thing, you can have all your user-submitted content be text and not pictures, or pictures that can be maybe R or NC-17 rated but not hardcore sex. And then you can also have all of your porn video and pictures out there for the users to mix and match and make new movies out of that content. So you can still offer several ways to participate.
And then there are some sites where people do post, you know, whatever they want of themselves. And if the users are providing the content, it might just come down that the users are the ones responsible. But I don't think it's been decided yet. I think that's a huge gray area right now. BROOKE GLADSTONE: I was just wondering if there's something about the culture of porn that sort of works against community-building. I mean, I guess we always think of consumers of adult content as preferring anonymity and solitude. REGINA LYNN: You can have community and a certain level of anonymity, because you're not out there with your Social Security number on the site. You're out there with your handle and your online self.
I said in a conference recently that if you want to build community in adult spaces, look to the women. The independent websites that women put together where they are the performers and they do the whole thing on their own as maybe their home-based business are all based on community and have been for more than 10 years - talking to their fans, talking to the visitors, building relationships with the fans, who then bring in other people and who then stick around. I know one Webcam performer who has had the same members for seven or eight years. BROOKE GLADSTONE: Do porn sites really suffer or pay a penalty for being slow to adapt to this new evolving online world? REGINA LYNN: I think they will. If you think of today's 12-to-17-year-olds who have not yet looked at porn, when they turn 18 and they look at their very first adult content, this is a generation who is so used to having complete participation and control in their media that if the adult industry continues to just sort of put out content that's intended to be watched passively, they're going to lose this entire generation. BROOKE GLADSTONE: And if the porn industry no longer has anything special to teach us about the future of communications technology, if it's hit the wall as a tech innovator, should we even care how it's doing? REGINA LYNN: [LAUGHS] I don't think it's hit the wall as a tech innovator, though. We're seeing other kinds of innovations coming out of it, like attaching hardware so that you're watching the video and what's happening in the video is powering the hardware that is touching your body and giving you pleasure. So I think they are definitely going to continue pushing technological innovation.
Our need for erotic content and our sex drives are going to continue whether an industry continues to make billions of dollars on it versus all of us making our own and sharing it. That's, I think, what we’re going to see in the next 10 years. It's going to go one way or the other.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Well, maybe we'll talk again after porn-driven technology enables the blind to see. REGINA LYNN: [LAUGHS] Well, doesn't porn make you go blind? BROOKE GLADSTONE: [LAUGHS] Regina, thank you very much. REGINA LYNN: Thanks. BROOKE GLADSTONE: Regina Lynn writes the Sex Drive column for Wired.com.