What happens when we try to cure loneliness and a lack of sex with technology? We get all sorts of weird devices and services that really make us think—what the hell is going on here? The Internet is the most obvious example of this: first it was full of basement-dwelling geeks, then the porn-crazed perverts, but now it’s you, me and your grandma. But we’re all using it for the same thing most people use all sorts of new technology for: sex and socializing.

It has been said that “all new technology turns to masturbation.” Porn sites were just the beginning. Now, there are online dating services, virtual worlds where some people spend a majority of their waking hours; online chat rooms where people can meet and have cybersex; and the emerging, wonderful world of teledildonics (yes, it is what it sounds like: remote-control dildos). There are even net cafés dedicated to online socialization where people can go and hook up in real life with other café users.

“The Internet is a penis extension,” says Chris Collins, a third-year engineer at Queen’s University

But it doesn’t stop there. There are pager-like devices that find other lonely individuals as you walk around town; text messaging; and anatomically correct human-size dolls with which one can do the nasty (available exclusively online).

Get your freak on with The Lovegety

In 1998, a little love-detecting device aptly named the Lovegety made its debut in Japan. After buying the Lovegety, an owner customizes his or her settings—“I am a woman looking for a man to go to karaoke,” for example. Once programmed, the owner walks around the city. When another Lovegety with compatible settings comes near, they both beep loudly and the owners can talk. But what if you’re completely grossed out by the person whose Lovegety has set off yours? What if there’s a drastic age difference? An older man reported to Wired News: “I’m pretty old. I don’t want people to think that I’m a pervert. The one time I used it in Shibuya, my Lovegety rang three times in an hour, and I kind of knew who the girls were, but I was too embarrassed to approach them.”

Similar devices, such as the Flirty, became popular in China and Germany as well, but never really took off in North America, probably due to a lack of interest.

Fine-tune your Gaydar

A North American foray into the love-beeper market arrived in the gay version of the Lovegety. It was supposed to offer what the original did not—a same-sex coupling. The aptly-named Gaydar had a planned launch date of summer 2000, but never made it to market. Critics of the Gaydar complained that homophobes and other nasty folk might use them to find and attack queers. But it seems their lack of popularity was due to a difference in culture: “People in different cultures have different tastes,” says Ronald Deibert, a political science professor at the University of Toronto. “How else to explain the phenomenal success of Jerry Lewis in France?”

The dirty, dirty Internet

Where else can you have anonymous chat and/or cybersex with millions of people without rejection being an issue? John Lafratta, a graduate of Seneca’s graphic design program and a cynical but avid online chatter, likens it to shopping—you can chat with all kinds of people without making any commitment to them. Even when meeting people by conventional, real-life means, Lafratta uses the Internet to get the dirt on potential mates: “The first thing I do with anybody new is punch their name into Google.” Essentially, the Internet lets you try before you buy.

Chris Tenove shared this sentiment in a recent issue of Adbusters: “If you really piss someone off, you can invent a totally new name and go back and chat with the same person, pretending to be someone else. Or if someone is bothering you or boring, you can just escape, instantly. You really never have to invest much in one identity.”

“I remember sometimes turning off the computer and suddenly being alone,” added Tenove. “It would be quiet; I could hear the traffic outside. I would say to myself, ‘Shit, this is me on a Friday night.’”

But perhaps these sad results are due to the way the technology is used.

“I had a colleague complain to me that in the small town in which he teaches it used to be common for students to hang out in the local pub and talk, but now they never do this anymore. Instead, they sit in their dorm rooms and chat with each other, while watching TV,” says Deibert, who as well as being a political science professor is the director of the Citizen Lab, a project designed to bring together computer people, activists and artists to do research and development at the intersection of digital media and civic activism. “All of this is incredibly de-socializing and potentially dangerous for politics, given that much of the debate that leads to informed activity takes place in social places, like pubs.”

Personals get geeky

Lavalife (lavalife.com) and Nerve Personals (personals.nerve.com), souped-up, online versions of their newspaper siblings, exploit the Net’s tendency to create dime-a-dozen encounters. You log on and are presented with thousands of profiles of other singles, each neatly divided into the categories “dating,” “relationship” and the crucial “intimate encounters.” Each person’s profile is like a shopping mall display. You browse, decide and send your pick an electronic smile or a little note, and then things go from there. The choices are endless.

But that’s not all! Make way for teledildonics!

A few companies, such as Vivid Video and Virtual Reality Innovations Inc., are currently investing hundreds of thousands of dollars in teledildonics research.

Virtual Reality Innovations Inc. has developed what it calls the Virtual Sex Machine—basically, a massage tube to put your penis in. It works with interactive CD-ROMs that are “enhanced with teledildonics,” by doing to your penis what the porn stars on screen are doing.

The website (vrinnovations.com) provides the following instructions for your Virtual Sex Machine:

Step 1: Put the machine on your penis.

Step 2: Choose any of the girls.

Step 3: Sit back, relax, watch and FEEL IT!

Soon, the companies say, you will be able to hook a similar, or more elaborate system (Vivid Video has plans for a full cybersex suit) up to your computer and have it controlled by someone else, making cybersex a lot less boring.

And if that doesn’t tickle your fancy, you can order, exclusively over the Internet, a super-realistic love doll from Realdoll Inc. (www.realdoll.com) The Realdoll is completely anatomically correct, but only available in female.

If the real world is boring, move out

VZones, one of the most developed virtual worlds in existence, is hugely popular in North America and Europe, especially in Germany. As their website (www.vzones.com) says, “You become an avatar: a walking, talking, moving replica person. It’s an experience you won’t soon forget.” VZones also has its own closed economy where users can start their own businesses, buy and sell items, rent apartments and buy clothes. There are poetry readings, parties, bingo games, holidays and even marriage services where you can tie the knot with other avatars. The scary thing is that many people have become their avatars—they spend their entire waking life “in world,” in the new life they have created for themselves, with their new virtual-world husband, possessions and apartment.

Go out to get online

In Seoul, Korea, the Net has become a staple for social interaction. Groups of kids go to super-hip, decked-out Internet cafes called PC bangs to play games and pick up. They have specially designed loveseat computer stations where you can video chat with others in nearby cafes. If a couple hits it off over video chat, a guy can give his location and seat number to the girl he’s chatting with. She can hop on the subway or walk to where he is, and if she likes the look of him, she can sit down next to him and, as they say, things go from there.

Autonomous sex robots?

Whatever the reasons, it’s become part of everyday life to use technology to socialize. And this is true, even though the stuff we invent can involve remote control dildos or abandoning reality. We have to ask: what the hell will we come up with next?