CXO

Peter Cochrane's Uncommon Sense: Porn or no porn?

Don't demonise the net - let it work for us

Pornography of all types pre-dates the internet by a few millennia, so why do so many people consider the medium the cause of unsavoury behaviour? Peter Cochrane considers some common knee-jerk reactions… The last five years have seen thousands of arrests across the planet relating to child pornography with the confiscation of tens of thousands of obscene images stored on computers. The most recent crack down meant it felt like hardly a day went by without a public figure being arrested. All are tracked down by their credit card details recovered from hard drives by the police, across several nations. Many of those arrested deny the charges and you have to wonder at their stupidity in using their own credit card, their morals in wanting to participate in this awful trade and the likelihood that they may be in fact innocent. What if their card details were stolen? Only time - and the courts - will tell. Humans have engaged in all forms of pornography for thousands of years. In Elizabethan England, for example, young girls were often married at the age of 11 or 12 to much older men. In ancient Rome, Egypt, Greece and China sexual practices and publications were at least the equal of those today. Only we now have the technology to far surpass any of the artistic rendering and static images of the ancients as well as a vastly superior distribution network. When photography first became commercially available a very old industry soon realised the potential and a new phase began for pornography. The ability to create high quality images was suddenly available for widespread and rapid distribution. Soon the dirty-mackintoshes and postcard sellers arrived, followed by the development of movies, TV, VHS, PC, internet, camcorders and digital cameras. Today the porn industry is ubiquitous, easily accessible and at prices all can afford. It is a global industry that overshadows Hollywood and rivals the production and supply of many manufactured goods. It is also that component of cable, satellite and hotel TV that makes them sell. In general everyone denies viewing but the figures tell a different story. In some sense we are all guilty – depending on how pornography is defined. Some years ago I was engaged in net porn studies covering areas including availability, lack of national control, the meaningless nature of international borders and legal ineffectiveness. But the most important aspect was the all too apparent threat to children and the need for safe sites. At first it was necessary to search for porn and the content and access was crudely presented. But over the past decade the industry has become very sophisticated with the best-engineered sites and interfaces. You no longer have to try hard to find good quality porn. And once you have clicked they can lock you in. Images appear thick and fast on your screen. Not surprisingly the dominant searches on the web rapidly became sex related, only to be overtaken by MP3 in recent months. As I travel the planet I occasionally scan the adult pay TV channels in hotels and homes and from time to time search the web. As far as I can see there is almost everything imaginable for free, and mostly harmless, in the strict sense, to normal adults. The content is vast in breadth and depth with a wide range of depravities you wish you hadn

About

Peter Cochrane is an engineer, scientist, entrepreneur, futurist and consultant. He is the former CTO and head of research at BT, with a career in telecoms and IT spanning more than 40 years.

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