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    Technology

    The secret behind all technological innovation in history…porn

    Apple, the company that popularized the iPod MP3 player, iPhone smartphone, and AirPods wireless headphones, unveiled its latest new product this week. The tech firm hopes that the Apple Vision Pro, a virtual reality headset that can also map and augment the real world in front of you, will create another new category of electronics.

    Someone wearing a headset could be watching a 3D virtual reality movie or playing a game, or cooking a recipe overlaid on their line of sight – perhaps even giving live advice based on how things are going. On its website, Apple also talks about reliving “cherished” videos and the possibility of “life-size” FaceTime calls. Opinions about VR are tepid at the moment, and with the $3,499 (£2,899) price tag, no one seems to be sure that Apple's new product will be a guaranteed winner.

    But, as with With all of its products, Apple can count on early adopters – most of them men under the age of 50 – who are committed to the brand and proud to be at the forefront of technology.

    With the device's ability to record 3D video and show it to other users on the Internet, it's safe to say that a company can also depend on another unrelated group of customers: consumer enthusiasts. porn.

    This won't be the first time that pornography has been a key driver of new technology sales. Throughout history, the adult entertainment industry has been a driver of technological innovation—from camcorders to camcorders, from paywall to faster broadband speeds. However, this raises an uncomfortable question for Apple: Is pornography the key to the future of a company that prides itself on its family image? >New Apple Vision Pro Headset at the Apple Worldwide Developers Conference in California. Photo: Getty

    The importance of pornography to the success of new technologies was a phenomenon that American columnist John Tierney noticed in 1994, in the early days of the World Wide Web. “Sex has had a particularly creative influence on communication,” Tierney wrote. “Sometimes erotica has been the driving force behind technological innovation; almost always, from stone age sculptures to computer bulletin boards, it was one of the first uses of a new medium.”

    The evidence certainly supports Tierney's thesis. The rock paintings include depictions of the naked human body. As soon as the Gutenberg printing press became available outside the church, it was used to distribute explicit woodcuts.

    The evidence in the modern age is even more evident. VHS is known to have outperformed the technically superior Betamax due to its more open format, which meant that porn studios didn't need a license or permission to produce adult VHS tapes.

    But it is on the Internet that the role of pornography as a driving force in the development of technology becomes undeniable. One of the first things people used the internet for was exchanging explicit messages or pictures. When broadband was launched, the ability to download such content faster became a reason to use it again.

    It was pornographic companies that solved the problem of secure online payments by struggling to find ways to charge users reliably, which spurred the growth of the much larger and mainstream e-commerce sector. The adult industry has been ahead in terms of user-generated content, monetization (for example, adult network OnlyFans allows users to subscribe to individual stars and view private content), and even the freemium model (some videos are free and then paywalls) that news publications now use the most.

    Woody Allen and Diane Keaton in Sleeper (1973), a sci-fi comedy in which 'orgasmatron booths' used instead of sex. Credit: Alami

    Whether it's because young men are driving technology adoption and being the most regular users of pornography (or maybe they're just more likely to admit it), or whether one is driving the other is almost irrelevant. The history of modern technological development teaches us that pornography will be followed by the rest of the economy.

    This may not bode well for virtual reality and the online world of the “metaverse” that Apple CEO Tim Cook and Meta/Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg are aiming to create. It was only last year that the idea of ​​virtual reality and the metaverse burst into the mainstream, becoming briefly inevitable before quickly becoming frustrated that it might not be the next big breakthrough technology.

    The big buzz around virtual reality in the adult industry started a couple of years ago when headsets came out that allowed users to feel like they were actually in a room where  …events …or even films from the viewer's point of view, in which the viewer is meant to in order to feel like a participant.

    Both were said to lack quality, and users were apparently nervous watching the lewd acts happening to them when they knew they were alone in a room with a piece of plastic. tied to their face. Combined with limited demand for headsets and the higher costs of making such videos, much of the adult industry quickly lost interest in VR.

    The tech giants have problems too. Most of the time when they develop a new technology, they can come up with a completely innocent use case and free themselves from what it's really used for.

    Apple CEO Tim Cook with the new Vision Pro Headset Photo: Getty

    When incognito browsing was developed, which allows users to browse the Internet without leaving a history on the device, companies were talking about finding birthday gifts for family members. In fact, this was not its main use. Virtual reality is a bit more complex: companies have much tighter control over who uses their devices and what they allow. Can they create dubious means for adult content to get on the platform?

    The answer seems to be that perhaps they can, says Charles Arthur, a technology writer and author of Social Warming: How Social Media is Polarizing Us All, as Apple's new devices can record as well as view. “Given the price of Apple's headset and who is most likely to have the money and time – single young men – it's very likely that the porn industry will take advantage of the 3D recording capabilities of glasses quite quickly,” Arthur says.

    There is an ongoing public debate in the West about declining birth rates and how many young people are either waiting to start a family or don't care at all. The most common explanations are higher levels of education, access to contraceptives, and a much higher cost of living. But research shows that the growing access of young people to pornography is leading to an unrealistic and unhealthy approach to sex and relationships. Does the ever-increasing availability of increasingly realistic adult content play a role in our fertility crisis? Don't people bother looking for the real thing because the substitutes are getting so good?

    American feminist critic Camille Paglia has a philosophical approach that seems to suggest that there's not much to worry about on this front. She argued that pornography so often tracks the development of technology because it is always an inferior substitute for real sex, and therefore people always want it to improve. It has really improved, from rock art to woodcuts, photographs, videos, and now 3D.

    If Paglia is right, we will always want more. Virtual reality may come close to eliminating the itch, but it will never actually do so. Fertility rates are probably safe, at least on that front.

    Whether Apple's bottom line and image is safe is a much more open question.

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