For reasons best described as kismet, the phone sex workers and I became good friends. We found each other endlessly fascinating. They were intrigued by my odd history and by what I’d managed to make out of it. In turn, I was intrigued by the way they negotiated the minefields of ethics and personal integrity while maintaining a lifestyle that my other [lesbian separatist] research community considered unthinkable.
After a while, we sorted out two main threads of our mutual attraction. From my point of view, the more I observed phone sex the more I realized I was observing very practical applications of data compression. Usually sex involves as many of the senses as possible. Taste, touch, smell, sight, hearing—and, for all I know, short-range psychic interactions—all work together to heighten the erotic sense. Consciously or unconsciously phone sex workers translate all the modalities of experience into audible form. In doing so they have reinvented the art of radio drama, complete down to its sound effects, including the fact that some sounds were best represented by other improbable sounds that they resembled only in certain iconic ways. On the radio, for example, the soundmen (they were always literally men) represented fire by crumpling cellophane, because to the audience it sounded more like fire than holding a microphone to a real fire did.
The sex workers did similar stuff. I made a little mental model out of this: The sex workers took an extremely complex, highly detailed set of behaviors, translated them into a single sense modality, then further boiled them down to a series of highly compressed tokens. They then squirted those tokens down a voice-grade phone line. At the other end of the line the recipient of all this effort added boiling water, so to speak, and reconstituted the tokens into a fully detailed set of images and interactions in multiple sensory modes.
This is beautiful and genius.
The idea of phone sex as data compression is a fascinating one that itself hinges on our receptivity (and desire) to “seek multiplicity,” or apply certain behaviors in contexts other than their perceived origin. By (re-)applying an idea to a context foreign to it, one unlocks the possibility of creative synthesis. This is not merely accomplished by executing a new application, but rather by exposure to whole new origin stories. This processing seems an informational equivalent to what some call the “circle of life”; it is a cycle of ideas—what I call “idea sex.”
Thanks to this, I can now finally perceive parallels between the “literary telepathic non-magic of the Internet,” with its origin story as an evolution of inscription technologies, and the supposed linearity of time. When texts are arranged sequentially in chapters or compilations for the purpose of exposition, they have the capacity to move readers through multiple narratives. Sadly, most authors I am aware of have not utilized this capacity, perhaps because they had not yet developed a sense for the usefulness of parallel thought, something that hypertext and its corollary, hypertextual navigation, makes not simply evident, but blessedly and subversively obvious.
In effect, hypertextual literature is a three dimensional inscription that offers readers a non-linear path through time and experience—both the author’s and their own experiences. It is a medium that itself aids creative synthesis by virtue of the intentional (re-)application and, in many cases, (re-)appropriation of contexts. If more people understood how this changes thought—not merely thoughts but the very process of thinking—I think hyperlinks would not be so often overlooked.
See also: “Is Google Making Us Stupid?” by Nicholas Carr, with which I largely disagree due to how Carr seems to (dis)miss the whole damn point of hyperlinks.