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Pornography Driving Technology

Pornography is having an increasingly-harmful impact on the church. Pollsters like Barna have been telling us for years now that more and more Christians, including, and even especially, those in positions of leadership are as prone to pornography addiction as anyone. The effects of pornography, as most of us know (as most of us, by now, have surely known someone who has been found out to be addicted to pornography or who has recovered from an addiction) are terribly detrimental. Of course many outside of the church disagree, believing that pornography is a harmless diversion, and as long as people are not forced into making or watching it, there is no harm in it.

Yesterday I was listening to the news headlines on the radio and heard about some new mobile phone technology. While many people already have phones that can display and even snap photographs, video phones are now increasing in popularity. These phones are able to store large amounts of data. Needless to say, these are being used for some pretty awful purposes – most notably, people are now able to download pornography onto their phones, take it with them and watch it whenever they want. This technology could be useful in many ways, yet it was specifically developed by and for the pornography industry. It is a case of pornography driving technology.

This is not the first time that technology has been driven by our society’s seemingly insatiable appetite for pornography.

Do remember the days, back in the late 70’s and into the 80’s when you went to a video store and had to choose between Betamax and VHS formats? Or when you purchased a VCR and there were two formats to choose from? We all know that eventually VHS won out, though VHS’ time in the spotlight was short-lived as DVDs have since taken over. But do you know why VHS won the battle? In large part it was because the pornography industry chose the VHS format, for sake of cost and convenience, over Betamax, even though in many ways Beta was better. Pornography drove technology.

And how about the video recorders and camcorders that have increased in quality and capabilities while decreasing in cost? The prices fell as millions snatched up these cameras to make imitations of what they had seen from “professional” pornographers.

And while we are on the subject of video, did you know that the pornography industry also drove the acceptance of DVDs? Why, you ask? In part because they can hold so much data, but also because DVDs make it simple to skip forward and back, to cut to the chase and get to those favorite parts of the movie. Skipping from scene to scene is much more convenient than hitting Fast Forward, Stop, Play, Stop, Fast Forward, and so on.

Pay-per-view television in your home? It grew out of the pornography industry’s pioneering work in delivering pay-per-view programming to hotel rooms to cater to traveling business men who could indulge in their addictions while away from home.

Even sports broadcasting has benefited from technology that has grown out of the pornography industry as new cameras and filming techniques have been developed, initially to deliver a better experience to those who watch pornography.

Perhaps nothing has benefited more from the pornography industry than the Internet. After all, in the height of the dot com hype, there were only a handful of online industries that made any money. While ecommerce stores fell apart as quickly as they were built, and while other companies invested in the web only to suffer catastrophic losses, the pornography industry soared to new heights and raked in billions and billions of dollars. There are upwards of 100,000 porn-based sites on the Internet now with literally tens of thousands launching annually. Pornography is clearly the greatest financial success story on the Internet. How has that affected the average user? In many ways! Faster connections and great storage capacities are just two. After all, pornographic movies and pictures take a lot of bandwidth and storage space and people who visited such sites demanded more and faster. The hosting companies and internet providers have delivered.

Let’s return to the place we started – mobile phones. The mobile communications industry regards the upcoming generation of mobile phones as the third generation of mobile technology. We have gone from the old clunkers from the 80’s that were wired right into cars, to tiny, portable phones that have gained incredibly wide acceptance and have, in many cases, replaced traditional phones. The third generation of mobile devices will increase functionality to whole new realms. Those in the industry who are honest will admit that pornography is driving the new generation of devices. One person in the industry commented, “For years it has been a dirty secret that one of the key drivers of new consumer technology is sex, pornography. The need to make 3G [third generation] technology work - and work fast - is exposing that secret.”

An analyst at a digital media consulting firm admits that “Like it or not, pornography drives each new, convenient visual technology, and 3G, which combines powerful new media applications, will be no different.” In the news report I heard yesterday, the reporter estimated that the mobile phone pornography service is worth over one billion dollars this year alone, and that is with technology that will no doubt be Neanderthal compared to what we see when the third generation is more fully developed.

Pornography drives technology in general and visual technology in particular.

Truly society’s appetite for pornography is shocking.

And the appetite for pornography is being developed in increasingly young lives. Not too long ago I spoke to a neighbor who has provided his thirteen-year old son with his own television and computer. I asked him how, in good conscience, he could give his son unlimited access to temptations that are far beyond a teenager. He responded with a wink and the words, “boys will be boys.” He acknowledged that they have already caught their son and his friends watching pornographic material. But he does not really care. After all, boys will be boys. Or in this case, boys will be men. Long before his son is able to understand or express sexuality, he will be addicted to it. And what’s more, before he even has a chance to appreciate sexuality in the way God intended him to, he will be addicted to hardcore, deviant sex that is a far cry from the loving, mutual expression of love and acceptance that sex is meant to be.

I just have to ask, is it not odd that Christians so enjoy the technology built around one of the most revolting acts of human depravity? It seems more than a little ironic that technology developed to support an industry that commits unspeakable atrocities, that has so many victims, and that destroys lives, families and ministries has brought so much good to the church.

I think primarily of the Internet – a tool that has done wonders for Christianity. While much harm has come to the faith through the Net, there has also been so much benefit. Christians have been able to get and stay in touch with other brothers and sisters, even on the other side of the world. Many of us have developed wonderful, deep, meaningful friendships with other Christians we may never meet this side of eternity. We can benefit from the teaching of pastors and teachers we may only ever experience through the Web. Missionaries are often able to remain in near-instant communication with their families, friends and churches – a tremendous privilege that is unique to our day. And so on. Yet all of these blessings are built around technology developed for evil.

I often wonder if human ingenuity is not more driven to devise evil than it is to devise good. That is to say, do some of the greatest human discoveries stem from a desire to do good, or from a desire to do evil, even if that evil is clouded by free speech or free expression? I suppose if humans are as depraved as the Bible tells us they are, it must necessarily follow that motives and desires cannot be separated from nature. Hence evil people will desire to do evil, and will find new and exciting ways of spreading evil. At times we can use these developments for good, and even be thankful for them, yet there is still a shocking irony there. I guess it is all part of God’s mysterious plan of provision where He can work evil for good. But I still do not understand it.