I must have missed passing that milestone in my life when erotic content simply became a source of comedy rather than an object of interest. A new iPhone app has shown me that I (and, thank God, my partner as well) passed that point some time ago.
"The Rusty Bike Pump?" she says in disbelief. "That is a sexual position?"
"Apparently it is a less uncomfortable variant on the more conventional 'Pile Driver' maneuver," I instruct. As if I know. A few decades into the sexual revolution, we men still pretend to be more experienced than our mates. She cringes. I am showing her the abstract diagram of the move on my iPhone. The illustration is denuded of sexuality, as the modified stick figures employ the bold-line style of the event icons used at the Olympics. When illustrating complex moves like the "T-Square" (I am not going into this) the visuals get a little obscure so there are detailed, dispassionate descriptions. "I don't see how that can be fun," she says.
"Well, the app promises that the 'technique emphasizes recreation over procreation.'" In fact, the two of us are looking at the picture every which way and flipping it as if it were a Jackson Pollack painting in search of the right orientation. We're just trying to figure out which muscles would need how much balm for how long after trying this so-called "T-Square." You get to a point in life where you respond to sexual manuals first by doing damage assessments.
The app in question here is called, simply, Boink, from MEDL Mobile, and it uses the iPhone "bounce" trick (two phones tapping to trade information) to determine if two Boink users have compatible sexual tastes. Each user of the app adjusts a series of sliders to create a personal profile in categories from "Kissing" to "Foreplay," "Positions" to "Fetishes." The Positions category is the heart of the app, and it includes pages of description for the sexually ill-informed. The basic idea is that you meet up with a fellow Boink owner, bounce phones, and the apps tell you how much of a match you are. You can see the tagline coming a mile away: "Boink before you boink." In the few tries at "mating" two iPhones, I kept coming up with "100% Match. Protect yourself - you're in for the ride of your life." I see a lot of singles bar catastrophes coming as a result of this thing.
The app is more than a mere novelty. The company bills the effort as a mobile social app. In addition to the boink move, it lets you share your "Boink Stats" on Twitter and Facebook. Tall-tale tellers can post an anonymous sexual story to the service, which geo-locates them. You can read about local exploits in your area. How fitting that just when Facebook is getting thrashed by critics for sharing too much of users' information, an app comes along that opens even more doors for publishing intimacies. There are so many levels on which Boink is outside of my age range.
Part of the PR push from MEDL involves the company successfully vaulting Apple's inscrutable content codes. This isn't your typical iPhone app. Apple has been acting as censor in iTunes and limiting adult content. In order to pass muster, Boink went through three rounds of the approval process, the company claims. That the app won approval in the end suggests Apple is willing to let the platform mature, so to speak, into a genuinely diverse and more open publishing venue. MEDL wouldn't say what got left on the cutting room floor, however. I have to wonder if the parallel app worlds of Apple and the more open Android will evolve a kind of network TV vs. premium cable divide. As more content appears on both systems, Apple versions could be tamer -- while programmers reserve for Android the "uncut" versions.
But the Boink app does indicate new ways of thinking about mobile technology, content, and social sharing, person-to-person content exchanges, mobile mash-ups, etc. In the first years of mobile media, "personalization" was something we did on our phones mainly for our own benefit (ringtones, wallpapers, etc.). In this next stage, the handset can become a digital extension of self whose profile interacts with the environment. Without overdoing the sexual metaphor, a phone with a user's detailed profile allows us to opt into any manner of intimate relationships with stores, advertising, and other media. Why not let the user "boink" with the commercial world by tapping a movie poster or a kiosk in a mall?
Armed with a granular, user-generated profile of my tastes in art, clothing, food, or music, my phone could shift the dynamics of the great digital privacy debates in a more productive direction. Rather than create a profile passively and anonymously through online activities, a phone-based profile is something a consumer is more likely to build, take ownership of and use is a host of ways if it's clear there is value attached to the exchange. "Opt-in" should not be such a scary prospect for marketers, if we really are prepared to give the consumer both power and exchanges of value.
See, there are advantages to getting old. It frees you to think beyond the sexual allure of an app like Boink -- and consider how it might apply to the important things in middle age, like getting a discount on that bag of grass seed at Lowes.
"Wait a minute. Let me see that phone," my partner says. "What is that 'Reverse Cowgirl?' again?"
Oh, no. I am sunk. Where's the Ben-Gay?
Great post Steve. Your article resonates with me, as both being involved in mobile marketing and, of course, as a human being. Before long, our devices (at our bidding, mind you) will be interacting with the world around us, registering approval and disapproval of everything we encounter, from advertisements to potential sexual partners, based on self-calibrated measures of taste and preference.
We are at a point where the advancing current of our technology has met a tidal shift in our attitudes toward personal publicity, and the force of both have created an irresistible and self-reinforcing spiral that will define our culture for a generation to come.