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Apps vs. Anticipation: Redefining Desire in the Digital Age

Apps vs. Anticipation: Redefining Desire in the Digital Age
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In Gilda (1946), Rita Hayworth slowly peeled off a single elbow-length black glove to evoke all the magic and sensuality of the striptease, to the delight of viewers and the press. Roughly sixty years later, hardcore pornography lurks in every corner of our Web browsers. But are our lightning-fast Internet connections really helping us do sex better, faster, and more efficiently?

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In October, the New York magazine compiled best of its Sex Diaries series with smart, insightful commentary. Our guide laid out the hookup landscape of the city in stark terms: “The social technologies that assist in dating and mating today are more than palliatives—they’ve changed the nature of the game. If the cold approach is more than you can deal with, put up a Craigslist ad, or join OkCupid, Manhunt, or Nerve. If the phone call makes you nervous, send a text message.” And if that doesn’t work, point your browser to YouPorn.

It used to be that only our genitals were at our fingertips, but hooking up with someone can start with a few taps on your iPhone (which, with the right app, can also double as a vibrator). Assuming of course, your iPhone is actually working on that particular day; 100 million apps, and you still can’t place a call or a text.

So—is all this technology is muddying the waters of already fraught territory, even though it promises to be quick and painless? We figure that, if we can order food online and have it delivered to our doors, our sex lives should be equally simplified in this digital age. All those other people are the problem: the people in front of us at the checkout, the people taking our orders at Domino’s, the people at the cash registers. Save yourself hassle by cutting out the middle man and relying on the tech du jour! Frankly, we’re spoiled.

To be fair, technologically-aided sex isn’t completely free from that most frustrating of human rituals: the waiting game. Wooers still wonder, why hasn’t she texted me back? Or, should I wait longer before I write on his Facebook wall? But, as the Sex Diaries proved, people have become incredibly fickle. Few of the Diarists chosen for the Best Of were in relationships, and the ones that were, weren’t happy. They sexted with people outside their monogamous relationships and snuck out to cheat. With sex seemingly growing on trees (or out of HTML code), people allow themselves to be picky.

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It may be easy to find lovers behind screens, but there are those who bypass the computer business altogether. Sex robots haven’t made it big in the States yet, but Japan has spearheaded the movement of creating life-like dolls that satisfy your every need. Warming technology allows some models the facsimile of body temperature while others feature software that make the fembot moan when a user tweaks her nipples. David Levy, author of Love and Sex with Robots, predicts that in about three years, sex robots will be so advanced, so damn good, that they’ll have to make their way into the mainstream. In the September issue of The Guardian, he said, “I am firmly convinced there will be a huge demand from people who have a void in their lives because they have no one to love, and no one who loves them. The world will be a much happier place because all those people who are now miserable will suddenly have someone. I think that will be a terrific service to mankind."

Healing the brokenhearted with science is admirable, yes, but sex with a human-like form at the push of a button sounds like a hollow victory. Gone is the thrill of even phoning in a fuck from a prostitute, an illicit act that comes with its own buzz outside the inevitable orgasm (sex robots could eventually put sex workers out of business, Levy predicts). Sex is headed to a very unsexy place.

Sound a bit too sci-fi? Think again—the Fleshlight is the most popular male masturbator on the market, made to approximate the look and feel of the vagina. Its makers have gotten creative, launching the Fleshlight Girls series. For $80, a man can imagine himself having sex with his favorite pornstar using a device molded from the original’s vagina. The makers of Fleshlight Girls have literally dropped the fantasy world of pornography directly into the customer’s lap: insert penis, live the dream. Fantasy and masturbation are important parts of the sex we have with partners, but when the fantasy is so close to real life, it isn’t too much of a leap to think some will find scouting out partners too messy, too hard. We can snicker condescendingly at sex robots, but robots and Fleshlights can’t dump us.

In some ways, technology has ended up a wobbly crutch for our sex lives rather than a handy lubricant. Like instant ramen, sex via technology will fill the need in three minutes, but a poor substitute of the savory meal you spent time preparing. The untimely demise of the anticipation that really gets us hot is lost, and we recognize it. Dentyne Ice (yes, the gum) tapped into this when it launched a huge ad campaign last year that urged us to step away from our Internet connections in order to reconnect. Billboards and posters in trains and bus shelters showed slogans like “The original instant message” over a couple kissing just before the woman’s taxi takes off.

It’s ridiculous, though, to call for a back to basics movement, where everyone shuts off their computers to write love letters by hand. Our smartphones, our chat programs, our social networking profiles are part of how we build our relationships. People can suck, yes, but they seduce us best in the flesh. Hiding behind a screen can cheapen what should be visceral.

This was Dentyne’s big problem, since they needed an online presence; thus was born the 3-minute website. The site gives you three minutes to learn all about their products, browse the ads, send ecards to friends for face time, and find local hangouts before it shuts off. Get offline, it says, and start a real connection. Robots can’t dump you, but they can’t cuddle either.

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