When Tizzy mentioned an event called "Arse Elektronika" (Sex, Tech Conference Arse Elektronika Kicks Off in S.F.) a few weeks ago, I knew I had to attend some of the events taking a place over four days just across the bridge in San Francisco. I had a feeling it was going to be a big ole brain-gasm, and I was right!
In its 7th year, Arse Elektronika is a lot of things packed into a long weekend all around the city that embodies sexuality and technology. According to Mission Local, "With more than 20 presentations over four days earlier this month, Arse Elektronika 2013 attracted some 125 hackers, makers, artists, pornstars escorts and activists of all backgrounds and gender identities."
"From the depiction of a vulva in a cave painting to the newest internet porno, technology and sexuality have always been closely linked. No one can predict what the future will bring, but history indicates that sex will continue to play an essential role in technological development..."
This is the lead in to a video of the techiest porn you will ever see: a fucking (literally) robot giving it all to a woman behind a curtain. This is the physical embodiment of the weekends events.
I'm reminded of a some of the sex toys I've come across (specifically, the Sqweel 2 and the Fun Factory Stronic), but this is obviously something much more than the sum of its parts. This is another level. The robot holds all the toys and patiently fucks her brains out. The intersection between advances of technology, creativity of the mind, and our animalistic sex drives is the embodiment of the weekends events, which are made up of many distinct and nuanced talks, parties, and demonstrations, like the one shown at the link above.
It was a busy weekend for the conference attendees, here's the schedule for an idea of the smorgasbord of talks and parties.
The theme of this year's conference was ID/ENTITY: the intersection of sex, technology, and identity:
"Identity, but also identification. Technologies for the exploration of identities. Technologies for the articulation and performance of identities. Technologies for the enforcement of hegemonic identities. Technologies for the verification of identities."
One interesting talk was Lex Pelger's Future of Fornication: Open Love in the Open Generation. Click on that link to hear a version, including comments on Google Glass, digital telepathy, identity, Grindr as hanky code, privacy, truth and more.
I showed up on Sunday, for Fap Fap Replicants at a work space called Noisebridge. I arrived at the tail end of a talk about "Self Love and Identity: Masturbation, Queers, Mixed or Missed Identities," presented by Tal and Omer Golan.(see correction below*) They touched on the intricacies of consent when it comes to being part of an artists project and the audience.
The highlight of the event for me was the next session. I moved into a middle seat and waited for "Making a Vibrator That Listens to Your Body," presented by Micah Elizabeth Scott. Here are her SLIDES FROM ARSE ELEKTRONIKA 2013 via Scanlime from the talk.
The story starts like this:
"I love feedback loops. Servo motors, thermostats, op-amps, DC-DC converters, social networks, flocking behavior. Our bodies. Massages, cuddling, sex -- these are all ways of bringing a partner into your body’s most fun closed-loop systems."
She wanted more from her vibrator, and she knew that she could make it happen by hacking her vibrator and teaching it to respond to movement. This was right up my alley. She had a magical idea about how to make a vibrator even better. She took it apart, put it back together and made it happen. I was impressed!
I've been working in the sex toy industry for over five years and I write about sex toys all the time. I recognized the vibe she used a higher end remote bullet vibe called Lelo Lyla, and I found it curious that she seemed to know more about the transmitter used in the toy than the manufacturer. The exciting part is what she did with it; she converted the receiver to respond to movement! You can read the details in her blog, Scanlime, and see the slides from the talk linked above. Using easily accessible materials, her amazing brain and skills, she improved on Lelo's vibe a million times. I wanted to immediately offer her a job at my imaginary vibrator company
The next talk diverged to a more serious subject, but equally interesting and useful. Ned Mayhem presented about a project he's been working on, called "Preventing Rape with Online Identity Security: Using sexual harassment reporting software based on information escrow as a case study for the complexities of safety, privacy, identity, and anonymity on the internet." This project aims to create a safe space online for reporting legitimate allegations of sexual assault, specifically to identify repeat predators.
Ned talked about creating a program and all of the concerns that come into play when reporting sexual violence, which can involve pushback against the victim (victim-blaming, bullying, silencing), and can involve a lot of heartache. The main goal, though, is to diminish the stigma and pressure that comes with being the first to speak out and publicly identify an abuser. It's definitely an interesting project with a lot of challenges, and a huge potential benefit to the community.
The takeaway is to keep the conversation going and to get inspired by the possibilities If you're curious to learn more, I recommend you look out for more upcoming events and check out the Arse Elektronika site and the RE/SEARCH books linked right here.
There are many ways to look at and think about how technology intersects our (sexual) identity, and that I have only scratched the surface with my encounters on the fringes of the sapiosexuals of San Francisco. These peeps are deconstructing and reconstructing vibrators, technology, violence, consent, gender, identity and more.
*Tal & Omer had to cancel. I saw the talk by Jos Diegel & Lisa Schröter.
There were also many events I was unable to attend, including Maggie Mayhem's talk on Activism/Tech/Sex Work, But she's doing it again! Coming up at the next Arse Elektronika event in Vienna: Maggie Mayhem: "Activism/Tech/Sex Work"