Virtual / Informational / Digital

Circuits of Desire: Internet Erotics and the Problem of Bodily Location

Catherine Waldby

School of Humanities, Murdoch University

forthcoming in R. Diprose, R. Ferrell, L. Secomb & C. Vasseleu (eds) The Politics of Erotics. NY: Routledge (1998)

Catherine Waldby teaches in the areas of science and technology as culture, feminist theory and theories of sexuality in the Communications and Cultural Studies program at Murdoch University in Perth, Western Australia. She has published in the areas of feminist theory, sexuality, social aspects of AIDS, and the biopolitics of medicine. Her most recent book is AIDS and the Body Politic (Routledge 1996). She is currently working on a book about the Visible Human Project, entitled Posthuman Medicine: the Visible Human Project and Informatic Bodies, forthcoming with Routledge.

Like money, sexuality is succumbing to digital dematerialisation. Just as economic exchange is now less a matter of the transaction of palpable objects (notes and coin) and more the electronic circulation of debt and credit data, so now certain domains of erotic experience are less a matter of bodily proximity and tactility, and more to do with electronically mediated communication between partners separated in space. While net sex and phone sex are minority practices, and the latter is more associated with the sex industry, the ethnographies of the internet produced by Turkle (1995) and Roberts et. al. (1996) indicate that a growing number of net users have some erotic experience associated with its use. Emerging forms of online sexuality include e-mail affairs, where the sexual encounter is conducted through talk programs which allow simultaneous exchange of written messages, through more random sexual fantasies played out in MOOs (Multi-User Dimensions, Object-Oriented) 1, the use of surrogate figures in on-line environments like "Habitat" 2 which enact the sexual desires of their authors on-screen, and as yet purely theoretical virtual reality erotic encounters where participants are equipped with data bodysuits which allow the simulation of transmitted erotic stimulation 3.

This utilisation of screen-mediated digital communication as the basis for written or simulated forms of erotic exchange seems like a particularly perverse aspect of informatic culture, given that the domain of sexuality, like the domains of birth, illness and death, is usually understood to most implicate our materiality, our bodilyness. For the couple, sexual exchange is usually understood to involve the greatest engagement of each body for the other, the most intense reciprocity of caresses, the intensification of each other's sensory acuteness. Eroticism in these terms is precisely the celebration of proximity and presence-for-the-other, of the sense of touch and skin to skin contact, and the complexity of relatedness which arises out of this proximity. Against this celebration of presence, virtual erotics can be readily represented as a sterile practice of disembodiment and absence, growing perhaps out of the terror of overwhelming presence. One commentator, for example, likens virtual sexuality to commercial phone sex, in that

the [space] of phoneland - a soundscape of bodiless voices - must be invested with all the sexuality we cannot share with other bodies, or with "real-time" persons with real personalities and desires. The deep purpose of phone sex is probably not really the client's masturbation or his credit card number, but the actual ectoplasmic meeting of two ghosts in the "other" world of sheer nothingness, a poor parodic rendering of the phone company's slogan, "Reach out and touch someone", which is so sadly, so finally, what we cannot do in cyberspace (Wilson 1996: 224).

Wilson clearly understands virtual erotics as a dystopian practice which substitutes the negativity and anonymity of bodily absence for the positivity and intimacy of presence, a position which aligns him (albeit negatively) with those numerous commentators who associate digital technologies with opportunities to escape from the bodily realm into the dataflow. This desire to abandon the bodily basis of experience and replace it with hardware has attracted much critical commentary from feminists (e.g. Springer 1996, Sofia 1992, Hayles 1993, Sobchack 1996) who point out the continuity between this technologically augmented desire and the older theological and cartesian desire to transcend the flesh, with its associations with femininity and mortality, and live in a state of pure, disembodied rationality.

My own interest in the domain of computer mediated sexuality arises at a point prior to these kinds of evaluations, although it is also inevitably bound up with them. I want to ask why such an unpromising medium as the internet is undergoing eroticisation in the first place. The marked sexual curiosity and speculation about the erotic potentials of Virtual Reality, or 'Teledildonics' to use Howard Reingold's phallic term, (Reingold 1991) is more understandable, given that VR is thought of as a kind of 'full' telepresence. Reingold proffers VR technologies as able, sometime in the future, to transmit full sensory effects, not only the sight and sound of another telepresence but also tactile data, telecaresses which can be sent and received by participants wearing datasuits. This he claims would allow suited participants to engage in simulated sexual relations with each other's telepresence which would have all the effects of actual proximity.

In comparison to this fantasy, in which an entire sexual sensorium is transmitted, contemporary internet communication involves the exchange of only the most abstract trace of the other, their writing. As Stratton (1997) points out, even phone sex involves the mobilisation of more transparently bodily traces - the breath, the grain of the voice, intonation, all those sensual signs of the speaking body which the telephone is able to convey, and which are highly amenable to theatrical eroticisation. The message on the screen on the other hand seems devoid of such potential for sensuality, merely a stark exchange of information. In what way can such an exchange lend itself to eroticisation, and what does such an eroticisation represent in the histories of sexuality and technology?

I want to suggest that the eroticisation of computer mediated communication might be bound up with new configurations of embodiment and intersubjectivity which are developing in relation to digital technologies, configurations which can't be adequately described in terms of absolute presence or absence, proximity or distance. If erotic relations can be generated through the representational space of the digital screen, this perhaps indicates that space is being negotiated as a new kind of corporeal space. This space comes about through particular conjunctions of body and digital technology, which in turn enables new forms of intersubjective space. To engage in sexualised exchange at the screen interface is to suture the body's capacities for pleasure into the interactive space of the network, to use that network as the medium for pleasuring and being pleasured at a distance. It both substitutes for the face-to-face negotiation of proximate sexuality and simulates certain aspects of that proximate relationship, involving the projection of a limited kind of telepresence through the simultaneous and interactive production of pleasure in the other's body.

I want to suggest that this eroticisation is a means of playing out and playing with the instabilities of bodily location which comes about through the growing bio-political demand that bodies find ways to intersect with and inhabit forms of cyberspace, and conform themselves with the burgeoning digital economies of informatic culture. Hayles (1993) describes this demand as the growing pressure on bodies to 'live themselves as code', to take on forms of agency which further secure the reciprocity between corporeal and cybernetic systems. The force of this bio-political pressure is generated at numerous points, most obviously in contemporary medicine and molecular genetics, and in the constellation of cybernetic discourses and practices generated around new digital technologies. A large number of research projects and prototype bio-technologies are currently devoted to finding new and more seamless ways to interface body and computer - neuronal implants which simulate sight for blind people through the computerised translation of a camera image into signals, computer programs which respond not to keyboards and mice but to "thought patterns", computer chips which are designed to "download memory", genetic engineering techniques which "rewrite" part of the genetic code in a cell - each of these projects struggles to refigure the body as code which is compatible with cybernetic technical ensembles.

As the interpenetration of bodies with digital technologies becomes more seamless and pervasive, new domains of experience and being-in-the-world become colonised by this demand. It seems to me that the practice of internet erotics puts the locatedness of the erotic relation, and thus the locatedness of the bodies of the participants, profoundly into question, dramatising tensions between the body experienced as material, specific and located, and hence desired in terms of sexual proximity, and the body experienced as materially implicated in digital communication, to the extent that this serves as a prosthetic for presence, a transmissibility of proximity.

In what follows I want to try and articulate the organisation of this eroticised space and the complexity of bodily location which it involves.

The Sexual Relation Does Not Take Place

What is being exchanged in screen mediated erotic relationships? Whether these relationships take place in personal "talk" formats, in MOOs or in on-line environments, they effectively involve two or more participants writing descriptions of physical intimacy, dialogue and descriptions of feelings which appear simultaneously on each other's screens. They constitute a kind of collaborative writing of erotica in a real time exchange, where each partner is simultaneously author and reader, addressor and addressed. These exchanges might take place between established couples who are temporarily separated, or between participants who have no face-to-face relationship, who may use fantasy characters to engage in erotic play or conduct a purely on-line "affair" as (a character/author resembling) themselves.

Such relationships have generally been understood to constitute an exchange of consciousness or of disembodied self; that is they are interpreted along predictably Cartesian lines. This interpretation prevails in pop cultural representations of virtual sex, as Springer's (1996) study of contemporary techno-erotica makes clear.

Instead of depicting us as losing our consciousness and experiencing bodily pleasures, however, cyborg imagery in pop culture often invites us to experience sexuality by losing our bodies and becoming pure consciousness (Springer 1996: 62).

Springer goes on to discuss various examples of cyberpunk fiction, in which this paradoxical desire is enacted. She notes that in fact, these narratives of virtual sex always involve forms of embodiment that are simply disavowed, forms of embodiment for the characters which are necessary for any sexual action to be imagined, but which we as readers are asked to think of as occurring in the immateriality of virtual space, and hence as being 'disembodied'. In a more scholarly vein Stratton explicitly links his analysis of e-mail affairs to Cartesian dualism. He argues that the advent of electronic communication, beginning with the severing of location from communication effected by the invention of the telegraph, has involved a radicalisation of Cartesian Dualism, where the self becomes progressively more detachable from the location of the body as it becomes increasingly constituted through and in communication processes.

The spread and naturalisation of a variety of interactive and bodiless media of communication has provided a context for the reworking of the Cartesian understanding of the self. Allucquere Rosanne Stone describes how, compared to "real" space, in virtual space the socioepistemic structures by means of which the meaning of the terms "self" and "body" are produced operate differently. One consequence of this difference is a radicalisation of Cartesian dualism. Where in modern thinking, the body serves to contain and limit the self, the singularity of which was guaranteed by the continuity of the mind in the body, there is now an increasing acceptance of the idea that not only are selves separate from the body, they are not limited and determined by the mind's containment in the body. (Stratton 1997: 28)

A similar kind of argument is made by Stone (1994) who characterises all electronic communication as introducing a disjuncture between the body and the "I", wherein the "I" can be transmitted or delegated, but the body remains in its locale. In each of these instances, computer mediated erotics is understood to take place through an exchange of self or consciousness from which the bodies of participants are excluded. The "I" can be transmitted because it is understood to be both immaterial and historically mutable, able to be manipulated within the codes of language, whereas the body is confined by its own irreducible materiality to a singularity of location. In a sense the body is not merely confined to a location, it is itself location, matter specified by its displacement of a specific space which serves as a "housing" for consciousness. Hence if digitalisation involves the dematerialisation of the world, computer-mediated sexuality is a dematerialised sexuality from which bodies are excluded by virtue of their material inertia.

It is clear in these analyses, and in Wilson's remarks, cited earlier, that bodily presence and absence are conceived in absolute, zero-sum terms. Bodies are, by virtue of their particularity and materiality, confined to single locales, only able to move serially through space, not amenable to forms of simultaneity. They have unambiguous relationships to the spaces that they occupy. Within this framework virtual erotic exchanges must be considered to be disembodied in the sense that the bodies of the participants do not meet in proximate, actual space. This lack of proximity counts as absolute absence, as presence elsewhere which excludes presence here, and hence erotic relations conducted under these conditions are claimed to go forward in an absence of bodies.

This logic fails to appreciate the kinds of disturbances that electronic communications have introduced into the terms of presence and absence, and into the locatedness of sensory experience which defines the condition of embodiment. Weber (1996) explores this disturbance in his discussion of television, and the way in which it undermines simple determinations of location. Television, he argues, throws into confusion any notion of the coincidence between bodily location and location of experience, because it precisely dislocates vision from place and enables not images but vision as such to be transmitted.

Television serves as a surrogate for the body in that it allows for a certain sense-perception to take place; but it does this in a way that no body can, for its perception takes place in more than one place at a time. Television takes place in taking the place of the body and at the same time in transforming both place and body. for, by definition, television takes place in at lest three places at one: 1. In the place (or places) where the image and sound are recorded 2. In the place (or places) where those images and sounds are received; and 3. In the place (or places) in between, through which those images and sounds have been transmitted. The unity of television as a medium of presentation thus involves a simultaneity that is highly ambivalent. It overcomes spatial distance but only by splitting the unity of place and with it the unity of everything that defines its identity with respect to place: events, bodies, subjects (Weber 1996: 117).

Hence if television is reconsidered not merely as a medium of spectacle but as prosthetic, it moves the location of bodily sensory experience, in this case the experience of sound and vision, away from any simple unity of body and sensation and towards its capacity to gather up several locations at once. Watching television means that the site of embodied experience becomes undecidable, both there and here at the same time, and thus neither fully there nor here, if these are understood as absolute states. The site of experience, and thus of agency, becomes distributed over a number of sites of recording, transmission and reception, whose positions relative to each other are specified not by their distribution in three dimensional euclidean space but by the form of technological ensembles, by the gestalt that they constitute.

This redistribution of sensory experience and agency implies that bodies are not the excluded term in electronic communication but rather that they may articulate with these technologies in ways which makes determinations of location, of presence and absence, highly ambiguous. McHoul (1997) argues that a particular material indeterminacy and new forms of agency or efficacy are precisely the ontological qualities which distinguish cyberspace from other forms of technologically produced space.

For the cyber is not identical with the virtual or ... the imaginary ... Rather the cyber's unique equipmentality flick(er)s or hovers between the actual and the virtual, between the 'as' and the 'as if'. When I use VR equipment ... to play golf, my actual arm moves as it would when addressing an actual golfball on an actual course. However, in this case, there is no actual ball or golf links. Rather the sense of their immediate existence is generated electronically. That is, I address the ball 'as' ball but it has its being 'as if' ... So the cyber is neither actual nor virtual alone; rather it resides in the ranges of space between — spaces that are neither here nor there, present nor absent, material nor immaterial, 'as' nor 'as if' (McHoul 1997: 5).

It is evident here that cyberspace, not just in its Virtual Reality modality but in all forms of interactive, real-time digital space, demands the interventions of embodied agency which can mediate between the 'as' and the 'as if', and set up workable relations between them. Far from being the excluded term, the space of cyberspace is only possible because of bodily mediation, rather than existing as some pre-determined technically produced space to which spatially naturalised bodies have access as consciousness. As Vasseleu, writing of virtual reality technologies puts it,

We can say that cyberspace is ... a medium of participatory orientation between bodies and objects in different spaces...Cyberspace is often characterised as a transparent electronic medium, or informational interface. However, equally, a participant's body is the medium in this interface. In fact, virtual reality is not entirely unfamiliar territory. The intelligibility of bodies has always been conditioned by their ability to form intersections with, and live their reality as, multiple culturally determined spaces (Vasseleu 1994: 155).

In other words bodies intervene in technically produced forms of space, finding ways to embody those spaces as their own, to take them on and live them out. In the case of cyberspace, its qualities of interactive simultaneity opens it out to new kinds of intersubjective practice and desire, which depend on this active, imaginative occupation of technical space as embodied space. This inhabitation cannot be encompassed or described by conventional distinctions between presence and absence, because the assemblage involved in cyberspace is precisely about the redistribution of these qualities, the opening out of possibilities for telepresence of various kinds which necessarily displace these distinctions. This redistribution is most evident in virtual reality systems which both double or 'copy' the subject's site of experience, agency and being by moving it into an electronically generated sensorium, and simultaneously mask or muffle experience, efficacy and orientation in actual space through use of the VR helmet and other equipment 4. This redistribution enables the projection of the body into cyberspace as interface between actual and virtual space, a mode of being which can not only interact with a virtual environment of objects, as McHoul describes, but also interact with other avatars, traces/figures which mark other forms of telepresence in that space.

Eroticised use of text-based digital communication involves a related setting up of ways to embody and inhabit cyberspace, an experimentation with modes of telepresence and the transmissibility of sensation. It does this in a much less literal-minded and cumbersome fashion than that employed in VR, relying on certain practices of language reworked in the interactive real-time medium of the net to generate its effects. In doing so it also plays on a tension between desire generated through the absence of the proximate, locatable body of the lover and the real pleasure possible in imaginary, unlocatable encounters.

Internet Erotics

The pretext for any computer mediated communication between participants is separation in space. Under these conditions, intimacy is designated not by degrees of proximity and fullness of presence to the other's body but by degrees of access to the other's screen space, and to their attention. Participants allow each other real time access, which Hayles (1993) argues, substitutes for the relations of possession which characterise forms of presence.

Whereas possession implies the existence of private life based on physical exclusion or inclusion, access implies the existence of credentialing practices that use patterns rather than presences to distinguish between those who do and do not have the right to enter (Hayles 1993: 84).

While the interaction assumes spatial separation, it effects a recuperation of spatial absence through temporal presence. In talk programs, in MOOs and in on-line environments, the interaction involves the production and interpretation of signs of presence elsewhere produced in real time. The other's writing or avatar appears on your screen as it is produced by the other person, the labour of their production highly visible, bearing witness to their simultaneous location at the other terminal. This mutual and simultaneous interaction effectively implicates the bodies of both participants in a particular kind of shared space - not the space of material propinquity but of the complex techno-social space produced by the digital assemblage and its embodiment by the user.

To engage in eroticised exchange in this context is to elaborate upon the bodily aspect of this trace, to substitute in writing for the absent referent which is the pleasure-able body of the author. Any notion of "erotic exchange" is clearly variable, but in this instance I am referring to what can count as a sexual encounter under these conditions, an encounter in which participants explicitly designate their exchange as a form of sexual practice, involving the evocation of fantasies around caressing, touching, kissing, access to erotogenic zones of the other's body, penetration and so on.

In doing so the participants engage in, or strive for, a kind of eroticised presence-for-the-other which is brought into being through a performative use of the exchange medium. The content of the message is the eroticised body of the sender, a kind of writing which tries to enact what it describes, to act for the absent lover by creating (some of) the pleasurable effects of proximity and surface-to-surface meeting. These forms of exchange could be characterised as 'pornological', Deleuze's (1990) term for a particular performative modality of obscene writing, characterised not by its deployment of illicit sexuality but rather by the setting up of a certain constitutive relationship between bodies and language. Certain kinds of sexual description, he writes, (he is referring specifically to Klossowski here),

assumes therefore a linguistic function: being no longer a question of speaking of bodies such as they are prior to or outside of language, they form, on the contrary, with words a 'glorious body' for pure minds...the obscene is not the intrusion of bodies into language, but rather their mutual reflection and the act of language which fabricates a body for the mind (Deleuze 1990: 281).

The operation of obscenity is to find a language which imitates the choreography of eroticised bodies, which produces sexual effects through enunciation. As Chisholm (1995) argues in her reading of the pornological, it is a form of language which enacts the original moment in which desire is generated, the desire which only comes into being when the object (mother/ breast) is lost and infantile sexuality finds satisfaction first in hallucination or fantasy, and later in the manipulations of language. This originary moment is heavily sublimated in everyday discourse but, Chisholm states,

[The pornological] is desublimated sex-talk which does not veil the cause of desire, but acts as outspoken cause and which claims to effect total satisfaction is the simultaneous verbalising and corporealising of...fantasy (Chisholm 1995: 29).

Net erotics seem to me to involve this deployment of language, an exchange of writing which devotes itself to the miming of bodily intimacy between the writers. The purpose of the writing is to create material, reciprocated effects of arousal in the body of the receiver. Deleuze (1990) and Chisholm (1995) focus their analyses on the capacity of certain writerly practices to create these effects, practices which are, no doubt, largely absent from the average net-sex exchange. Here the medium specificity of net exchange, specifically its simultaneous and interactive capacities, is a compensatory factor. Net sex writing is simultaneous, collaborative and interactive, working through a back and forth sharing of scenarios, an exchange in real time which involves lag and anticipation, hesitation and invention, an ebb and flow of excitation which maps itself on to the ebb and flow of writing 5. As one writer describes it,

The thing to understand about electronic relationships is that they have a built-in boundary that cannot be crossed. The thing about pleasure is that it takes place along boundary lines. Fingertips and lips are bodily boundaries; in the non-material realm as well, resistance is a known aphrodisiac. In electronic space limits are marked by lag..the time it takes to get a response...the drag of slight resistance is just enough to let you know that something or someone else is there...Like Velvet. Like human skin...It is the push and tug between immediacy and lag that gives electronic communication its true and distinctive erotic charge (Corcoran 1995: 340-1).

Netsex is only possible, can only approximate a pornological deployment of language, because this rhythm lends itself to the mimicry of bodily exchanges. Simultaneous writing acts as a fantasised caress, the transmission of a kind of imaginary tactility which effectively acts out the fantasy of tele-touch promised in 'teledildonics' discourse, without resort to the cumbersome literal-mindedness of the datasuit.

In this reciprocation a libidinal economy is generated through the interface, so that libido, the medium of sexuality, maps itself onto the digital medium and utilises its transmission capacities. In generating such a circuit the user is engaged in a libidinal relation with the technology itself, where, as Vasseleu points out the technology substitutes for another human body, but they are also engaged with a fantasised elsewhere human body somewhere beyond the space of the screen. The screen becomes the theatre for the representation of the elsewhere body in a way which both contains it (insofar as it is framed in that space) and does not, insofar as the writing body of the other signals their autonomy in the process of writing. The other's text appears on your own screen but you can't control what it writes, it comes at you from elsewhere.

In this way the location of the sexual relation itself becomes problematic. Where can it be said to take place? The absence of the body of the lover is both the starting point for the communication and the state which can be at least partially mitigated or problematised by the real time exchange at the screen. While a sense of embodied proximity cannot be generated in an absolute way, a kind of touch is possible through being-in-touch in an explicitly eroticised way, a touch which manifests itself in the material pleasure effects of the communication in the bodies of the participants. In these ways Internet communication can be used to create an eroticised confusion over the difference between absence and presence, here and there, access and possession, which in turn produce new configurations of intersubjective intimacy and distance.

Net sex then is not a practice which virtualises the proper body, as cybercultural discourses tend to assume, but rather both assumes the proper body and extends and alters its horizon of agency and presence. It enables the projection of new kinds of erotic efficacy through the employment of cyberspace as a theatre for intersubjective acts which are simultaneously carnal and textual.

While netsex involves new forms of tele-presence, I do not want to suggest that this new intersubjective space reproduces the intersubjective dynamics of relationships which are (or are also) embodied in actual space. Like all prosthetic practices the use of cyberspace involves both gain and loss, and indeed in this case is premised on loss. Because netsex can only ever address (spatially) lost objects it is frequently represented as a space for 'safe sex', a space which generates a high mobility of fantasy without the possible risks of their material enactment. As one netuser put it,

I have been visiting chat sites all over the Web for almost a year now and have inevitably succumbed to cybersex. At the time the act was purely harmless fun. I still see it as that (letter in the Weekend Australian, May 10 1997) 6.

But this mobility and safety also marks its loss, the non-possibility of the face-to-face collisions with the resistance and difference of another, the demand for erotic accountability, which produces the 'dangerous' depth of vulnerability and reciprocity involved in proximate sexual relations. This is why, as a number of writers have documented (Stratton 1997, Turkle 1995, Roberts et. al 1996) people who "meet" on the net and have a sexualised relationship are rarely able to transfer this relationship to actual space and face-to-face intimacy, and often react to such attempts with phobia. The form of intersubjectivity produced in these practices is medium specific, played out in the 'consensual (erotic) hallucination' 7 which is cyberspace, not readily amenable to translation into actual space and the state of (technically) unmediated presence-for-the-other.

To put it another way, the forms of sexual relationship which can come into being under these conditions are specific to the space of the net, and the libidinal investment they involve is at least as much an investment in and desire for this new space as it is an investment in the other person. As Vasseleu (1994) points out, because bodies are increasingly understood on the model of digital systems, such systems are also readily understood as bodies, able to act as objects of desire.

characterising the technology in corporeal terms... establishes the means by which intimacy with virtual environment technology can be substituted for relations with a different body (Vasseleu 1994: 165).

The distinction between the elsewhere body of a netsex lover and the body of the system are necessarily confused, so that the libidinal circuit specific to netsex relations requires the interface to work at all. To the extent that such an eroticisation of cyberspace itself is generated by netsex it perhaps signifies ways in which bodies are being worked over in the interests of the new informatic economies. As Foucault (1980) has demonstrated, power relations are productive of pleasure, and the constellation of power relations which arise as a result of the transformative potentials of the new digital and bio-technologies produce new forms of sexual pleasure and practice as well as new modes of resistance. A body which takes sexual pleasure in the forms of relation enabled in cyberspace is one which can enter into embodied relationships with informational systems in less problematic ways than those who do not. Precisely because it has made a libidinal investment in that space, played with different, pleasurable ways to intersect with it, take it on and live it out, it can function as component and interface, a body which serves the interests of the new informational economies, taking on the demand to 'live itself as code'. To the extent then that netsex is experienced as an extension of erotic agency, a medium which provides access to and opportunities for fantasy-bodies, this would seem to be the case. To the extent that it is experienced through loss, as nostalgia for the face-to-face and the proximate it marks a point of resistance, a desire for commitment to location rather than the open-endedness of dis-location specific to informatic culture.


I would like to thank Barbara Bolt for her valuable suggestions for this paper.


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1. MOOs are text-based interactive programs which can be accessed simultaneously by multiple participants. They provide a database of rooms, descriptions and objects that can be used, reworked and extended by participants. MOO participants choose a character and generally are expected to maintain that character.

2. On line environments are similar to MOOs except that they provide visualised spaces, objects and avatars, rather than text-based descriptive ones. For a description of "Habitat" see Stone (1992).

3. This arrangement is proposed in the now notorious chapter "Teledildonics and beyond" in Howard Rheingold's popular text Virtual Reality (1991).

4. Virtual Reality systems involve the user wearing a stereovision helmet and at minimum a data glove which transmits haptic "feel", so that objects may be grasped in virtual space. These digitalised sensory feedbacks are linked up to a computer, and the result is that the user can act as if they are inside the screen, operating in a simulated environment. Other users may also share the same environment, so that it is an interactive, occupiable simulated space.

5. This point about the rhythm of 'fits and starts' specific to internet communication was suggested to me by Barbara Bolt, personal communication.

6. Thanks to Barbara Bolt for bringing this letter to my attention.

7. I am using William Gibson's now famous phrase for describing cyberspace here. See his novel Neuromancer.

New: 3 July, 1997 | Now: 12 May, 2015