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The Sex Market as a Driving Force in Technology Development:

People have long claimed that the growth of the VCR market was in large measure driven by porn; the same might be true as to some high-speed Internet services, I suspect. Now Slate asserts that:

Vibrator innovation was in fact a driving force behind the creation of the small electric motor. . . .

Slate has a fascinating item today on the history of the vibrator.

erp (mail):
Remember, your boys are only a couple of years away from reading your blog. Choose your topics with that mind and you can't go wrong.
7.5.2005 6:12pm
David Parsons (mail):
You speak with implied disapproval of the topic choice in this post. Frankly, I cannot see that there is anything negative about vibrators that should give a parent pause.
7.5.2005 6:45pm
Eugene Volokh (www):
Hmm -- I'd think our readers wouldn't like this blog to be written with an eye towards whether it's suitable for a seven-year-old.
7.5.2005 7:14pm
Wince and Nod (mail) (www):
My eight year old reads my blog occaisionally, in spite of its being aimed at adults. My parents weren't too worried about my reading Newsweek, in spite of periodic titillating articles, and our girls read The Kansas City Star. I'm comfortable with the current content on this blog.

Yours,
Wince
7.5.2005 7:19pm
Brian G (mail) (www):
I don't know about the vibrator, but I am quite sure the VCR took off because of porn. After all, it saved men of the world the humiliation of going to public theatres to see skin flicks. (Remember the movie The Pelican Brief, for example) Ditto the internet.
7.5.2005 7:31pm
erp (mail):
I thought it was obvious that my comment was intended to be humorous and I look forward to Eugene's posting on the conversation in which he explains the topic to his precocious four or five year olds.
7.5.2005 7:42pm
Eugene Volokh (www):
Whoops -- my apologies to erp for not getting the joke . . . .
7.5.2005 9:03pm
Gray Area (mail):
On this issue see John Tierney, "Porn, the Low-Slung Engine of Progress," New York Times, Arts and Leisure 1:1, January 9, 1994.
7.5.2005 9:22pm
Patrick McKenzie (mail):
I remain skeptical about this piece of conventional wisdom, because I've never seen evidence to support it, just post-facto explanations that porn must have driven the success of technology X because technology X has a lot of porn on it after it became a success. It seems an equally plausible read of the situation is "Porn, like gasses, expands to fill all available space". What are the revenues of US porn usually guestimated at, $10 billion? Thats great... compare it to the revenues for fiction, though, across all media (lets see, 98% of Hollywood + 98% of the video game market + ... ). And nobody says "You know what really drove the success of the PS2 over the XBox? Fiction, dude. Check it out, look how much fiction you can find on the PS2 -- sure, you can find fiction on the XBox, but it really emphasizes the graphics over the fiction, which is why the PS2 won."
7.5.2005 9:31pm
duvidil (mail):
Those examples -- VCR's, vibrators, and the porn on the internet now -- would pale to trivia if somebody could come up with a way to have real sex over the internet. Short of teleportation (as in "Beam me up, Scotty,") that's the real 'holy grail' of communication technology.

Think of all the travel it would save. Airlines might go broke, but we'd use less fossil fuel. With fewer horny drivers, the roads would be safer, too.
7.6.2005 1:58am
duvidil (mail):
Those examples — VCR's, vibrators, and the porn on the internet now — would pale to trivia if somebody could come up with a way to have real sex over the internet. Short of teleportation (as in "Beam me up, Scotty,") that's the real 'holy grail' of communication technology.

Think of all the travel it would save. Airlines might go broke, but we'd use less fossil fuel. With fewer horny drivers, the roads would be safer, too.
7.6.2005 1:59am
Wince and Nod (mail) (www):
erp,

Sticks in the mud like myself frequently miss written humor. I'm also sorry I didn't get it, not in the least because it is actually funny. I forsee a Volokh installment of "Kids Say The Darnest things".

Yours,
Wince
7.6.2005 12:25pm
Eh Nonymous (mail) (www):
Duvidil: nice point.

Now, if anyone can find proof that:

the telephone
the interstate highway
the robot
and the sticky note

were all designed, not merely incidentally helpful to, the pursuit of sex, then I will award them a plastic medal, with bronze clusters, for public service.

Hey, what if the Mann Act was a bad idea for technological reasons, not just social/political/ sexual/ gender ones? What if it stifled progress? (joking aside, interstate white slavery is very very bad, comparable in evil to intrastate white slavery).

Um... is this a bad time to ask about application of Mann-like statutes to girls who travel interstate to have an abortion when their own locality has sufficiently (and unduly?) burdened their "right" that they have to cross state lines?
7.6.2005 12:50pm
David M. Nieporent (www):
After all, it saved men of the world the humiliation of going to public theatres to see skin flicks. (Remember the movie The Pelican Brief, for example)

That was a skin flick? Boy did I misinterpret it.

-----

What are the revenues of US porn usually guestimated at, $10 billion?

Incidentally, I remember reading an article a few years ago debunking that figure. Uh, this might be what I read.
7.6.2005 2:21pm