Face-to-Face with the World: On MyFreeCams.com and Digital Intimacy

As Wired Magazine proclaimed a month ago, the web is dead.  The promise of the web  was archival, informatic, even if multimedia and engaging.  Consider the early, dominant metaphor: web page.  No one talks about a web page anymore.  Such anachronistic figures do not apply.  The interweb is coming to life.

My phone — smart, computational — has become a perceptive appendage, a sensual amplifier, always on just as my nose and eyes and ears and skin are always on.  My phone, more or less attached to my body, constantly scans the ether for signs just as my eyes, ears, and nose do.  Said phone — it feels funny calling it a phone and yet the phone has always been the most demanding, living technology: it rings, we answer, and interact live — this phone dings, strums, rings, buzzes, pulsates.  And is touched, flicked, fingered (obscene associations aside), tickled, massaged.  It is flesh, at least partly, and well integrated into my physical comportment, my posture, my physical comings and goings.

The live interweb forges such palpable intimacy in multiple ways, at multiple touchpoints — when a traveling parent Skypes with his or her children; in all the telemedicine initiatives that bring speciality care to local clinics, allowing primary care physicians truly to treat their patients; in the dings and pings of texts on the fly making a Saturday night.

But it was not until I discovered this website, MyFreeCams, that I really began to understand the emotional, existential power of the living interweb, its promise and its future. MyFreeCams is an adult website, as they say.  But I’m not sure one can call it porn.  Type in the url — yes, it is still a website but there are no pages, that’s for sure — and you are soon greeted with hundreds of thumbnails of women, 500-900 at any given time.

Click on one and you find yourself looking at a woman live (in both senses, and pronunciations, of the word).  She is more than likely in her house — you can see the bed, couch, kitchen, knick knacks — and may be anywhere in the world.  Many seem to hail from Romania, Russia, Philippines, Colombia, and the US.  You are in a chat room, the eternal web staple. You are probably not alone.  There are 10, 50, 100, 500, 1000 other users in the same room.

You can type and join the general conversation.  Or you can sit there silently and watch what transpires, free of charge.

But you will be limited in what you can do.  Buy some tokens and you can “go private” and have a one-on-one exchange with a woman (if she so desires — more on this). You can “spy” on the private shows of others (unless either of the participants deny this function).  You and others in the room can have a “group show.”  And, if the women choose to view it, you can turn on your own webcam, bringing you literally face-to-face with a woman on the other side of the planet.

There are so many amazing, interesting things worth noting.  The business model, for instance: it is a platform that allows individuals anywhere in the world to plug in and share revenue.  Magazines have tried this and keep trying this — let people at large create the content, generate the customers and revenue.  Here, it seems incredibly successful. And much more vital and complex as these are live feeds from all over the world (after enough visits, I learned that the site does crash — no wonder, as it seems demanding on a network).

Within this business model, there are multiple models that the individual women employ (not to mention the infinite variety of erotic seduction — the site is a litany of feminine, erotic tropes; there is a dissertation or three there). Some try to gather enormous crowds and offer incentives — 1000 tokens from the group and she’ll take off her bra.  Others stay clothed except in a private session.  Some never take their clothes off — and are incredibly successful.  Some sell videos, panties, memberships to other sites, have raffles — all in the currency of MyFreeCams.  Perusing the site and the various tactics employed is itself an education in marketing and economics.

The politics, as in any economy, are complex.  The women, in many ways, are in control.  If someone in a chat room is too pushy or demanding — “Show me your ass” — she shushes him or bans him.  Unlike the strip club and massage parlors of the world, these women are safely ensconced in their own environs, free to come and go as they will.  There is no trafficking across borders, no sleazy bosses making unpleasant demands. Of course, these women are there to work, it is their job, and so there are all the complicated contractual issues that lie at the heart of capitalism.

But one thing that is conspicuous is that many men on the site want to be liked. They don’t want to offend or just get off.  On the contrary, they want to be sweet, engaging — they want intimacy!

And this, alas, is what I find so amazing, so surprising, so illuminating.  This experience is incredibly intimate.  Rather than the digital offering an infinite distance, it offers a near-infinite proximity.  Hundreds upon hundreds of women, all over the world, right here in my living room!

As they’re at home, the women eat, exercise, talk on the phone, watch movies, listen to music and chat more or less actively with the men —and some women — who are in the “room.”It is astounding to suddenly be privy to such things.

The world is folded in upon itself.  As Marshal McLuhan noted ages ago, the electronic age ushers in the global village.  And MyFreeCams.com is a global village.  As night falls and I ready for bed, women in the Philippines are just rising. I see the early sun pouring through their windows; I hear roosters crowing; I see her eat her Philippine breakfast.  At times, I see and hear friends, roommates, relatives.

And they are with me everyday, in my living room, bedroom, and kitchen, there to greet me at the end of a day of work, to listen to me when the wife just won’t or can’t, someone to entice me when all such enticement is absent from my life.  It is an encounter in every sense of the word.

It is precisely the banality of it all — the eating, exercise, bedroom, the quotidian — that makes it all the more intimate and hence all the more palpable, powerful, engaging.  This virtual experience is not premised on lack, on what’s not there.  On the contrary, this event is excessive, fecund, seething. It is a live, real experience in and of itself — and at times quite powerful.

Day after day, night after night, the same men return to the same women.  They greet each other, joke, tease with a familiarity, a canniness, a domesticity.  You can taste the intense loneliness of these men and, in turn, the great relief this site brings (not that loneliness is the only driving force; there is also pure old pleasure).

Facebook is a dead experience, a series of uninteresting monologues, one-liners that go nowhere.  It is not a conversation; it is not alive.  Videos — porn or otherwise — offer divertissement and pleasure but they can never offer the solace, the intimacy, that MyFreeCams does.

This is the future: the whole world before you, always on, the digital ushering a tether for the lonely and the lost, a delight for the decadent and curious.  The living interweb brings us face-to-face with the world, forging an impossible but actual intimacy. TC mark

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