Net Sex I
(hennhaus: Hard Baud)

Originally published 11/14/1996Net Sex I

Back in the good ol’ days when COBOL and Fortran were the programming languages of note, computer professionals giggled over text files — comprised of seemingly random Xs and #s — which formed into nude women when printed out and viewed from an appropriate distance. Some time ago, before the Internet spread forth from the U.S. military and North American universities, 16-colour low resolution pictures could be downloaded from BBSes, the majority of which — if they had files to download at all — supplied only public domain and Shareware programs. Some of the pictures were popular, however, and a number of BBSes charged subscription fees to access them. Surely, scenes of natural settings, automobiles and historical stills were among those pictures, but what people paid for was pornography.

When 256-colour scanning became available, varied subscription BBSes offered prurient files whose visual quality rivalled onscreen what top-shelf variety store magazines offered. For the most part, the BBSes offered little the magazines did not, but even before 256-colour scans, a disturbing trend toward hard-core pictures was evident. The mid- to late 1980s proliferation of subscription-only BBSes seemed to exacerbate the problem; competition between them seemed to up the immoral ante.

Enter the Internet. As a text-only medium, the ‘Net didn’t initially lend itself easily to the publication of binary files — executable programs, as well as the GIFs and JPGs obtained from BBSes. This problem was solved through encoding and decoding files in a number of ways: today, UUencoding and Base-64 encoding are the most popular forms used, and most Web browsers and newsreaders decode files with ease. Indeed, without the en/decoding process, the graphical nature of many newsgroups wouldn’t be uniform — or possible — across the varied computer platforms.

The chief method of disseminating pictures of questionable content over the ‘Net is through the Usenet newsgroups, specifically through the alt.sex and alt.binaries categories. The question of why these categories — at least up until recently — saw immense posting traffic is difficult to answer; the posters, scanning magazine stills or even Polaroids of their own exploits, neither requested nor received remuneration for their efforts. Over the past year or so, however, this has changed.

In the heyday of pornographic BBSes, a bulletin board originating scans would advertise its name and phone number on its files in order to attract more customers. To the angst of those who frequent the seedier parts of the ‘Net, ‘spam’ has replaced the non-commercial postings in newsgroups.
‘Spam’ is ‘Net slang for advertising, and the ads inevitably cover more screen than the downloaded picture. What the ads offer — and the implications thereof — will be discussed in next week’s column.

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Copyright © 1996, 2006 by John Rudzinski. Note the date the column was originally published; any links contained therein are probably outdated.
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Related reading:

In the Shadows of the Net: Breaking Free of Compulsive Online Sexual Behavior The Skinner Box Effect: Sexual Addiction & Online Pornography