In an undisclosed location, on a day like any other, a young man will lie back in bed, legs spread, broadcasting his body to an audience of thousands. He will be naked except for the wireless keyboard that occasionally covers his crotch and the limp pink silicone antenna that hangs from between his tight, hairless ass cheeks.
At any moment, a collection of anonymous onlookers will flood the room with a chorus of digital tokens. When they do, the young man’s smooth glutes will contract, his hips will buck skyward, and his body will convulse as if from electrocution. He will cry out as the coins pile up. On any given day, this scene will play out hundreds if not thousands of times, thanks to the advent of remote-controlled sex toys.
The whole thing might seem unremarkable today, but back in the psychedelic ‘60s, a “fuck-by-phone machine” was about as far out as you could get.
During the pandemic, sites like Chaturbate and Flirt4Free became unlikely hubs of intimacy when physical connection was at a premium. Isolated from others, discouraged from embracing the ones that we love, we turned to machines for companionship. With real-world institutions closed, our lives played out online. We searched our screens for education, for entertainment, and, perhaps most desperately, for affection.
The concept of a global network of electronically-connected, haptic sex toys has existed, at least in theory, since 1974 when the philosopher Ted Nelson wrote about a device devised by a young inventor named How Wachspress. The Auditac Sonic Stimulator, as it was called, used a combination of hi-fi audio equipment and repurposed household objects to turn sound into touch. For a couple of years in the 1970s, it became an unlikely media sweetheart, inspiring journalists, philosophers, and sex toy manufacturers to imagine a future where frictionless, computer-assisted intimacy could be had at a distance. The whole thing might seem unremarkable today, but back in the psychedelic 60s, a “fuck-by-phone machine” was about as far out as you could get.
Read the rest of this article in Gossamer Vol. 7 or online here.