Census and Property

In July of 1995, Time magazine proudly announced that the Internet was awash in pornography. They reported that 83.5 percent of the digitized images on USENET newsgroups were pornographic (38). They based their numbers on a "an exhaustive study" completed by Martin Rimm, an undergraduate at Carnegie Mellon University. They go on to say that BBS operators estimate that 98.9 percent of the online consumers of porn are men (40). Although it is well known by now that Time grossly distorted the figures--more reasonable estimates place "the cyberporn threat" at "only about one-half of 1 percent of all Internet communications" (Burstein and Kline 110), what makes Time's article interesting is not the debate over numbers, but how Time describes the threat of cyberporn:

But pornography is different on the computer networks. You can obtain it in the privacy of your home--without having to walk into a seedy bookstore or movie house. You can download only those things that turn you on, rather than buy an entire magazine or video. You can explore different aspects of your sexuality without exposing yourself to communicable diseases or public ridicule. (40)

Every time computer users logged on to one of these bulletin boards, they left a digital trail of their transactions, allowing the pornographers to compile databases about their buying habits and sexual tastes. The more sophisticated operators were able to adjust their inventory and their descriptions to match consumer demand. (42-43)

For Time, online pornography is a threat because it is no longer a "seedy" business ghettoized and held at bay by the public censors, but terrifying shape-shifter that can cross erase boundaries between public and private, producer and consumer, other and self.