Queer desires in Tech


Transcript for #unit festival, 08.05.2015 

Welcome to our little private space in a public sphere that is open to everybody. It is an art to organize such thing. And we queers are so good at that, transgressing the border of the public and private and disturbing so many perceived binaries. We create our safe zones – safety, for which so often queer people need to fight. To safely indulge in pleasures, out for cruising, go to sex parties and darkrooms and lately chat on grindr. The Internet does amazing things to the worldwide community. Queer seems a very good fit to the Internet.

For me, there is the Internet before and after Social Media. The web 2.0 marks a caesura in engagement with the Internet. First, the Internet was free. Then everything online was for free.

Early startups like Google, Amazon and Facebook have made the Internet profitable by keeping the promise of free and finding business models to sustain this desire. Digital marketing was born, and thanks to the use of tracking technology, seduced us with the idea for free. But where has freedom gone?

Technological innovation online has quickly altered the ways we relate to each other. I was fascinated how Social Media made the structure of Marketing communication reversible. Previously, I talked wrote about seduction as a technology of desire informed by queer practices. I wanted to queer its structure by making it even more reversible. This is an ongoing project

I became interested in digital marketing and understanding better the practices behind it. I work now in digital marketing. In those few years, I matured professionally. The ontological difference between offline and online, technology and culture as two separate entities has disappeared. What else has changed? Marketing has changed. So, I like to take the opportunity to talk about the potentials of these shifts, and to show how marketing has opened up to being seduced.

Why desire?

I am aware that I enter some slippery territory by introducing and using this term. It has a lot of weight behind it from psychoanalysis, art theory and political sciences. In its most basic sense we can say: Everyone has desires. We all want something. So it speaks to everyone. It is the most powerful human motivator, so it can be the best catalyst for creativity, innovation and change.

It also has a common denominator with marketing. Yet in the public, certain desires dominate and therefore decide what is correct, right and what is seen and how thing are judged.

What are queer desires?

To quote Betty Dodson, a sex-positive feminist activist: “If you like sex you are already queer.”  I am using my own term of queer that is formed by Berlin queer culture as I have lived and experienced it. Berlin queer as I know it, has a wonderful charming, warm, curious and welcoming energy. Many people feel free here. Berlin lives by the motto: you fuck what you like.

Queer desires deal more explicitly with sex, but it than just that. Queer culture is inclusive. It can contain the bored housewife as well as the queer teenager, fetish bears, porn addicts and techies. Queer is an empty signifier.

and stands for liquidity of identity and a fluidity of desires. Queer doesn’t judge, but opens this space that allows thinking and feeling in deeper way and therefore for richer experiences with bodies, and desires. Queer in that sense is about something deeply human. It is about self-empowerment – power over your own body. Letting go of inscriptions into the body made by someone else.

What technology?

I refer to technology not only as to digital technology. Any kind of techniques, like language, seduction, sewing, in general the art of making things can be technology. My understanding of technology is that it depends on what we as people desire to do with it. Queer tech then means to make a diversity and variety of desires productive in the ways we make use of technology.

In this talk I focus on online marketing for 2 reasons: it exists through digital technologies. Relationships are shaped with and through this technology. And marketing makes use of technologies of desire.

Queering technology/ Queering marketing

Queering technology is the attempt to hook queerness up with marketing. I may upset some people who think it is a setup for commercialization and commodification. Queerness prides itself to be unable to become a target group for marketing. Queerness per definition has shown to be unable to be absorbed. Because it acts within the private realm, it escapes identification, is inconsumable to the market for its explicitly sexual nature and because it is so different from the dominant desires the market responds to and reproduces.

Heineken Campaign targeting gays and lesbians

Heineken Campaign targeting gays and lesbians

Yet, the market has shown to be very needy and thirsty to absorb everything. Gay culture has become a target group. There is this risk of the label queer to be commodified and consumed – but the potential weighs more. We can use the shifts marketing for transformation that go beyond representation, by using the reversibility of the structures.

Climax Culture

In my past work I looked at what male desires are at work in technology. I came to label this “climax culture”: the fixation on and promise of endless growth, reaching new climaxes and objectifying the machine just like women get objectified. Last not least a culture in which mainstream porn always ends with with the cum shot. It is a culture that is neither prepared for the aftermath of climaxes, nor aware of the consequences of such attitude. For example those dominant desires manifest in financial crashes as well as in start-ups that have formed monopolies in the once open landscape of the internet.

To balance the culture of climax we can look into female desires. If male desires end in climax, the female desire is infinite – Like The ocean goddess, Yemanja – she is multi orgasmic in her never-ending waves. But eventually I like to arrive at something that goes beyond the binary opposition of both, because everyone has these two forces and the two forces are in constant flow.

Shifts in queerness

Queer practices derive from cultural production, activism and art. Queer is a concept that made its appearance in 1990s and was shaped in academic and art discourse. It tackled identity politics and its representation in language and media. It coined the term hetero-normativity from a post-structural discourse. That was all in the 90’s and so to speak before the Internet

The rise of the Internet has also changed queer theory. Readings of Gilles Deleuze and his text Rhizome became popular in queer theory. Early utopian authors and writers saw an idea of openness and becoming, realizing itself in the rhizomatic structures of the internet. Away from linearity and fixed identities into a free space yet to be shaped. Early notions of melancholy and critic were complimented with the idea of a concrete utopia, which is nomadic, productive, and always becoming. Following Muñoz, queerness occupies the space of the not-yet, always promissory. For Muñoz, “Queerness is also performative, because it is not simply a being but a doing for and toward the future”.

The Internet with its non-linear, rhizomatic structure installs already a different, more queer logic or ways of relating. We have all become producers of culture; we are no longer just consumers. Social Media has given us reversibility and reconfigured the structure of our communication with each other but also with brands, services, and businesses. And marketing as usually responds to this.

What queerness and marketing have in common, what is the difference?

Both play with desire, both play it sexy and they are seductive.

The goal of marketing is tell a vision, an idea about a product. Marketing creates and stimulates desire in others. They can only so much see as their map allows identifying targets. With data tracking this targeting has become more precise. Marketing can now deliver to the desires of each user. This reversed strategy is called push to pull. Although Marketing is very good in extending and studying the map, queerness, due to its fluid nature, constantly escapes the localization and identification on the map.

Queer encourages you to follow your own desires, being authentic and true to who you are in the moment, to act on your desires and to make those desires productive. Therefore, commodities can’t satisfy queer desires. It’s about what you do, not who you are. To make this difference more clear, I show you an example of a queer marketing campaign.

The Queer Marketing of Homopatik

Homopatik is a Party that was founded by Danilo Rosato and Anna Bolena, 2 Italian expats. It takes place regularly at about:blank. The party is somewhat influenced by 90s no school underground and DYI culture.

They say they believe neither in the underground nor in mainstream, but wanted to try something new. Instead mourning or raging against the state being deprived of power, they celebrate the impotence of changing the world.” (source: http://www.transmediale.de/content/resource-event-001-trial-crack-queer-shifts)

They don’t advertise in the classical sense. They don’t print flyers, they started to do video flyers and distribute them through the Internet, using Facebook as communication tool. The community platform serves as an extension of the party. They invite their community on Facebook to come to the shootings for the video Flyer, to do the flyer to post on their page. This even resulted in an exhibition of flyers for the visit of the pope in Berlin.

Flyer Homopatik

Flyer Homopatik

Further, there are no DJ names printed on the flyer. Hence there is not really a product. Instead of communicating to the audience precisely what to expect with the promise of happiness and fun, they play with the unknown (Pss seduction!) They refer to their community members as “fans”, not followers, referring to 90’s fan culture, who produced fan magazines and created entire worlds around their objects of desire.

Those queer strategies focus on experience but go far beyond the marketing speech of experience. Homopatik pushes further the desire to consume towards the desire to be part of it. They let the fans become the message. In a sense they involve the body! And strange, queer things happen when you start to involve the body.

Cutting through

In the 5th episode of the current 7th season of Mad Men, the IBM processing machine is introduced. It is a young technology in the 70s. The machines are huge and the processing makes noise. The young creative Michael Ginsberg reacts strangely to the machine. He has dark visions of what these machines are about to bring to humanity. In one scene the audience sees him curse at the women in the machine room, in the next scene he visits Peggy at home reveals to her how computers will turn us all into homos.

Mad Men, Don Draper, IBM

Mad Men season 7, Don Draper, IBM

Sadly Michael Ginsberg cannot relate to his suppressed sexuality – or his taste for men. It is the seventies. The episode ends utterly grotesque. (I don’t want to spoil it for you)  What if Michael Ginsberg would be able to re-cultivate an authentic connection to his body?

In our online culture we gaze into screens, the screen is our only connection point. The body is only involved on a low level in that communication. It sometimes feels we are so connected all the time we become more and more disconnected from ourselves. Maybe because in western culture, we are often cut off from our body too. The body gets regulated by its environment, which is controlled by powerful institutions. These regulations become the human default settings and saved in our bodies. That is why sexuality is suppressed. That is why it is such a hot topic.

Michaels suppressed sexuality in Mad Men is challenged by the IBM computer. The humming of the IBM machine cuts through that. It is as if the humming places the vibration back into Michael’s body. Ironically with the introduction of the machine, the body becomes the interface for our desires again. In fact, the body is key in the endeavor for a concrete utopia.

Art Porn Night

Artwork: Silke Briehl

Artwork: Silke Briehl

I like to give you an example of a collective experience of liberating desires. 3 years ago we organized a screening of art porn short movies at the Mindpirates in Berlin. We wanted to show the entire spectrum of pleasures and sexualities not narrowed down to the cumshot of climax porn culture. The space was not a typical movie theatre. There were no seats. The room wasn’t too big either. People would stand like in a concert – very closely to each other because it was very crowded – and looking at the projected images on the wall. They would be immersed in the sound.

It was a whole body public experience of watching porn, something you usually do in private and you don’t tell anyone, because it is somewhat taboo. In this night, you could feel the vibration, the releasing of energies and gentle emotions in the room. After the screening, people would exchange with their neighbors, their eyes reflected a natural high.

Safely try this at home..

Mobile sensory technologies and sensory marketing

With the next generation of digital technologies: smart watches, and other Wearables and the revival of virtual reality with oculus rifts and holograms, the body becomes more and more involved in our communication, it becomes the interface with sensoric, gesture recognition and touch emotional responses. While we are becoming more and more mobile and nomadic, Marketing can only but respond to it.

Digital sensory marketing is quickly establishing itself as the “weapon” for mobile ads, because it’s an extremely effective way to reach people. The mobile phone is the most intimate object in people’s lives. To quote AdAge:

 Mobile hardware natively contains sensory elements that stimulate people’s emotions and create memorable, engaging experiences. … These sensors enable our smartphones to become the digital nerve center for our lives. By way of smartphone “senses,” if you will, our devices will hear (via microphones), see (via cameras), touch (via multi-touch screen), and locate (GPS + Magnetometer)”.

(source: http://adage.com/article/digitalnext/sensory-marketing-frontier-mobile-advertising/296655/)

If we, the people working in technology- understand the importance of the body, we can design technologies to produce other affects and emotions, we should install a heightened conscience and contribute to the project of becoming genuinely human. We can enhance our nomadic mobile lives and stay deeply and closely connected to other people. Everything else – creativity, freedom, diversity – will follow.

So if you are lucky, you have a queer crowd on board. They are experts on the body to design tools and cultivate communication for a more physically connected world and not just cashing in on our emotions. This is the future.

Consent and reversibility in Queer practices

I will now compare a little more the techniques of consent and reversibility in queer and marketing.

For queer sex parties certain styles of communication have been cultivated. The codices for sex parties emphasize to be respectful, acknowledge your own excitement and that of the others. Those events teach you to articulate your desires and experiment with a diversity of desires. You learn about yourself, get in touch and reconnecting with your inner child – with that safe space in you. It is powerful, a natural high. The pleasurable codes of communication allow everyone to jump over their shadows, feel safe and open up, and encourage to let go of anxieties. In this manner connecting with people and sharing intimacy becomes possible.

Another great practice that focuses on the body and involves consensus interaction is BDSM. BDSM stands for a variety of erotic play: Bondage and discipline, dominant and submissive as well as sado-masochism. It can be played soft and hard to anyone’s flavor. Safe words and after care are crucial elements to the games. By playing in this consent you learn to listen to your own body and that of the other.


source: http://www.livescience.com/34832-bdsm-healthy-psychology.html

And it is potentially reversible: Switching roles in power games build awareness and empathy for the structures we live in. It is also a way to negotiate power. That is why it is so empowering to play with these games. In fact science studies show, that people that practice are psychologically healthier than vanilla people.

Consent and reversibility in Digital Marketing

Consent and reversibility in online Marketing doesn’t evolve out of solidarity. Of course Marketing discovers opportunities to seduce us, but as a change of perspective one could say, marketing also becomes more queer through this, because the networked pre-condition makes the seduced visible and heard. It has opened up gates for us to become the seducers of marketing.

For example the double Opt-in process establishes consent. Users must agree to have their user data tracked and recorded. You see this in the cookie policies in Germany.

In 2015, marketing also taps more into community building and social charity in more engaging ways.

Airlines and the mobility industry are particularly prone to use our nomadic lifestyles for marketing purposes. After all, they enable us to connect us physically to the global network.

The Dutch airline Corendon gave a 50% discount on flights to Sochi for gay activists during winter Olympiad.

Likewise, a campaign lead by Dutch gay activists has been very successful. Two girls were stopped on the train by the staff from kissing each other. The aggressive guard told them it was okay for straight couples but not for lesbians. The girls put up a website and asked people to sign against the discrimination. The campaign succeeded it’s goal of 60.000 signatures. In the end more than 72.000 signed the petition.

Source: https://go.allout.org/en/a/mirjam-thalys/

Source: https://go.allout.org/en/a/mirjam-thalys/

Social charity in the name of branded government and currencies of change are further marketing trends in 2015. What the following marketing studies reveal is nothing less than stepping up the game of reversibility. It reads like this:

73% of Millennials don’t believe governments can solve today’s issues alone, and 83% want businesses to get more involved (MSLGROUP, September 2014).

That’s why in 2015, forward-thinking brands will look for meaningful change in the civic arena. They do so by identifying governmental shortcomings and – either through partnerships or by working directly with the community – effecting real and lasting positive change.

Currencies of change:

66% of consumers feel that the value exchange between consumers and brands is one-sided. Meanwhile, 70% feel that brands are motivated by a self-centered desire to increase profits rather than by a sincere commitment to their customers (Edelman, October 2014).

Here is Marketings answer: Customers can earn CURRENCIES OF CHANGE: personalised rewards*, incentives and discounts that help them overcome the inconvenience. (source: http://trendwatching.com/trends/10-trends-for-2015/#slide-7)

This leaves room for ideas. One of my clients is a big company in the B2B machinery business. Their customers often need to run extra night shifts in high season. I suggested a solution to deal with those negative emotions. If a customer had exceeded his shift by long hours, he would receive “pitty points” on this phone that he could redeem into a free coffee to freshen up.

I believe Marketing, in order to be trusted, will eventually be pushed more into sincere commitments. Smart marketers understand that it is not enough anymore to talk about it, you have to take action. The future of marketing starts with better business ideas and products that are in service of humanity and give people happiness and freedom.

What can marketing learn from queer?

I wanted to share with you this journey to encourage everyone to design and create tools and experiences of positive change, for example by establishing aftercare in services and apps and so on. Anything is possible with our new toys: infinite pleasures to become happy healthy humans.

The body is the greatest medium of all. Sexual energy is our life energy – the source of our creativity. Yet because sexuality is taboo, it is left out as a resource for innovation. So I suggest we use it more to empower technology and its people for a more concrete utopia.

Queers go beyond the dominant climax culture. They go for change. After all we are all Unicorns. Everyone who has a body can participate. We all do.

Let’s make our sexual machine be the motor for change. This allows for the diversity the unicorns stand for. Together we can become authentic, self-empowered, and healthy human beings with a good relationship to our bodies, feelings and emotions.

In the future queer would not just be “represented” in marketing, queer people become the bedfellows of marketing. Not to win profit war’s, but to win the hearts of people with compassionate solutions to our problems of today.

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