So long, and no thanks for all the lack of fish 

It is accepted now that porn drove the Internet in its early days. Some 36% of the Net traffic was generated by it. The figure is far less now

Published - June 08, 2024 08:32 pm IST - Bengaluru

The high-speed Internet at one of the planet’s least accessible regions was provided by Elon Musk’s satellite network Starlink.

The high-speed Internet at one of the planet’s least accessible regions was provided by Elon Musk’s satellite network Starlink. | Photo Credit: Richard Drew

Let us take a break from contemplating the pornography of power and turn to the power of pornography. 

Last September, the Marubo, a remote tribe of some two thousand people in Brazil which had been living for generations in tiny huts along a river was connected to the Internet. Elders complain now that teenagers are hooked on pornography online. 

This is a startling endorsement of what Tim Berners-Lee, the man who invented the World Wide Web, once said: “Every new technology is first used for something related to sex or pornography. That seems to be the way of humankind.” 

The high-speed Internet at one of the planet’s least accessible regions was provided by Elon Musk’s satellite network Starlink. The community is now dealing with issues that have come with its arrival in the rest of the world. 

According to the New York Times, younger members of the tribe spend their day lazing about watching videos and playing violent video games. They are neglecting hunting and fishing on which the indigenous peoples survive. 

Depending on your definition, pornography is 30,000 years old – from the Paleolithic age when figurines were carved in stone or wood. Some cave paintings from around the same time were explicit. The Internet has merely made it more readily accessible in high definition. 

Knowledge among the Marubo is transmitted through oral history. It is unlikely that anyone in the community has read Lady Chatterley’s Lover or Portnoy’s Complaint or indeed Fanny Hill, which was published in 1748. These books have been called obscene, but no one quite knows how to define ‘pornography’.  Perhaps because it calls for the writer’s intention – when actually it is the reader’s response that counts. The best we have done so far is a U.S. Supreme Court judge’s “I know it when I see it.” 

Vatsyayana, the Indian philosopher who lived a couple of millennia ago set out to write an instruction manual. His Kamasutra is  a self-help book that has survived possibly because of this, although it would be difficult to slot it thus when live models are used rather than illustrations. 

A couple of years ago, Prof Alan Mckee of the University of Sydney published a book with the unambiguous title, What Do We Know About The Effects of Pornography after Fifty Years of Academic Research? His conclusion: Not much. 

It is accepted now that porn drove the Internet in its early days. Some 36% of the Net traffic was generated by it. The figure is far less now.  

The historian Jonathan Coopersmith makes an interesting point: “If it were not for the subject matter, pornography would be publicly praised as an industry that has successfully and quickly developed, adopted, and diffused new technologies.” 

The Marubo tribe may have skipped a few generations of technological progress while going from the spoken word to the moving image, but it is heartening - or depressing, depending on your point of view - to know that humankind is the same everywhere. 

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