Porn's Paradox

by Zoe Pollock

Scott Fayner reviews how technology has historically been helped by pornography and its earlier adherents, and how that classic relationship has been upended by free porn on internet "tube sites."

All this back-and-forth between the porn studios and the tube sites is just the latest episode in a relationship between porn and technology that goes back at least to the printing press. And the rise of the tubes is hardly the first time technology has overturned pornography's established modes of business. The Polaroid camera, the VCR, pay-per-view, 900 numbers, live chat, video chat, and high-speed broadband all got early exposure as porn delivery systems. As a result, porn has been normalizing the use of new technologies for a long time.

"Things like the book or the motion picture weren't invented with the idea of 'Oh, let's make pornography with this,'" says ­Jonathan Coopersmith, a history professor at Texas A&M who has studied the porn industry for more than a decade. But porn "quickly becomes a tool for diffusing knowledge of how these new things work, and it creates an early market," he says. "Even without porn, we'd probably all have high-speed Internet, but it would have been adopted more slowly, in the same way that the spread of the VCR would have been delayed if porn weren't around, because the early adopters wouldn't be there."