Which brings me to sex, which appears to be what information technology was created to make more available. I think this point needs little defense in our own time, VCR’s take off when porn becomes available and most current estimates put between 40%-80% of all traffic on the internet as being pornographic (see Net.seXXX: readings on sex, pornography, and the Internet By Dennis D. Waskul). It is not for nothing that the cliché “The internet is for porn” was born. Of course it’s not just about the seamy side of things, dating and matchmaking websites are huge business and its certainly the case that they will be a larger and larger part of overt matchmaking. Finally, the not so explicit purpose of facebook and other social networking sites seems to be to enable people to cheat on spouses and partners. Apparently, this is the growth area for adultery. But I guess a reader would reasonably ask how does Reformation figure into this ramble?
Well, it turns out that the same thing happened when the Reformation took off. People started wildly printing their new thoughts on religion leading to mass renunciations of vows of chastity and immediate and widespread marriage of priests and nuns. It hadn’t been uncommon for the top ranks of the ecclesiastic structure to be keeping a wife on the side, but suddenly everyone in the rank and file decided that they could do it too. Whole communities were founded on principles of free and communal loving (don’t get me started on those crazy Hutterites). The whole Order of Teutonic Knights, effectively a major kingdom ruled by “celibate” warrior monks, decided they would like to maybe settle down and get a wife. The city of Munster in Germany was sacked and its inhabitants massacred to demonstrate Christian charity and disapproval of this sort of behavior. I had been going on at length about this subject for some weeks (my poor wife) when I got this in my email from the Writer’s Almanac (September 29, 2010)
"It was on this day in 1650 — that's 360 years ago — that the first documented dating service began. It was announced in a pamphlet by a man named Henry Robinson who advertised what he called his "Office of Addresses" over on Threadneedle Street in London. The pamphlet was essentially a directory of contact information — a sort of precursor to a Yellow Pages or People Pages, back before there were phones, or before houses or businesses were regularly given numbered street addresses. With this valuable resource he compiled, Robinson could answer clients' questions on things like what jobs or real estate or trade opportunities might be available.
One of the services he provided was "marriage brokerage." Using his directory of addresses to determine who was single and marriageable and where he or she lived and worked, he would set people up to go on dates. His service cost sixpence — but if you were poor, then it was free."
Okay it took a while but again, information technology is about more effectively getting people to knock boots. One might argue that that isn’t what marriage was about back in the day, but I think it would be hard to dispute that in a period of only a couple of decades lots and lots more people were having sex with one another across big swathes of Europe. Movable type is for Porn.
There is deeper meaning here about the nature of information technology and human beings, but I haven’t fully worked it out yet.