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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  • tao 'the situation' lin

    it's a good thing your phone can't read, because it sounds like you have kind of a crush on it. do you want a treehouse to sit in? a motel by the hour?

    • TerrenceFunkhauser

      That's quite enough out of you, Lin.

    • Daniel Coffeen

      Actually, it's not love. Just codependent drama. I keep trying to break up with it but it just won't have it. Counseling seems to be working.

  • Dwatson

    Interesting. It seems the boundary between virtual and real is about as washed up as the rest of the old dichotomies.

    I understand the argument that the experience is not lacking, but I think I take issue with the notion that it's not predicated on lack. It seems to me in some Lacanian sense there is a desire caused by a very tangible and noticeable and definable lack at the heart of this experience. (though this isn't quite fair because Lacan would say that about every single experience. So maybe ignore this point.) And here lies the paradox of the internet and the modern connected world in general: how lonely and out of touch must we feel if we feel we constantly need to be able to get in touch with everyone all the time. It seems to me that the infinite connectivity is at the same time an acknowledged loneliness. However, people have been talking about feeling alienated, economically and existentially, for some time, so perhaps this isn't that new; perhaps the solution is just more grandiose.

    In terms of the phone, as much as that word is still useful, it seems that we've finally got to the point where it's easier to understand that the things in our lives create us as much as the other way around. Objects, despite etymology, aren't simply something we bump up against; rather, they are there “toying” with us, complicating our subjectivity, much like when Frankenstein's monster addresses him: the object becomes subject, or better yet the difference starts to blur.

    • Daniel Coffeen

      I really enjoy watching your thinking emerge in your comments. I find myself nodding along with each move.

      The loneliness of people, I believe, is not due to digital distance but to capitalist speed — the intensity of work makes simple things like cuddling, touch, intimacy difficult. The digital has the ability to reconnect people, a la McLuhan's global village.

      Is there also a certain kind of alienation amidst the digital? Yep. Can we properly separate global capitalism from the digital? Probably not.

      But some believe that this interweb may be the undoing of capitalist hegemony, rupturing the totality of the Spectacle, creating new ways of doing things, new ways of communicating, sharing, loving. It's a nice thought.

      And I agree with your last point: objects shape us just as we shape them. This is true of all things; such is the nature of the event — it's cooperative. Things happen in between. The network is a clear performance of this always-in-between.

      • Dwatson

        I'm stuck on this one. I agree that speed is probably the most interesting factor to study in dissecting the modern “world.” (I'm not even sure what to call it. It's so weird that words like “world” and “real” no longer sound right.) However, and I know you acknowledged this in your reply, it seems that this speed is totally built into the digital. People like Ray Kurzweil are constantly talking about this magical futurist world where consciousness will be downloadable and the body will be totally superfluous. (thus radically changing notions of speed and movement) Moore's law argues that because of integrated circuit capabilities almost everything doubles in speed every 2 years. And even this doubling will probably be exponential as well. This obviously relates to economics as well.

        So I guess I'm stuck whether to see technology as a kind of dominating stance towards the world, ala Heidegger in “The Question Concern Technology,” or if Heidegger's going to constantly miss the point that technology actually “gathers” in ways that are far more profound and potentially useful than his example of a “jug.” Also, and I haven't read enough of him, I assume that some of your comments are related to Paul Virillio and his notion of dromoscopy (a totally fun word to say) but as I understand him, he's pretty worried about the shape of the future as well.

        And of course this entire exchange is predicated upon the fact that technology can be useful and helpful and also a way for me to not grade student papers right now. What I hate to admit, because I love grandiose claims, it's probably a matter of potentiality. Our technologies have within them a very productive and a very destructive possibility – the way every technology has built into it it's reverse (the train invents the train wreck ) and it's probably a matter of how one interacts with them, assuming the infrastructure is worth a damn to begin with.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Doesitmatter-MotherFuuker/100001246265001 Doesitmatter MotherFuuker

    As a model on there I have a different view of course. . .

    • Pablo

      I want to hear more about how you see it.

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