Technologies of Punishment –isn’t that a great title? I can’t claim any originality since it’s inspired by a CFP (that’s “Call For Papers” in the larger world) for a CUNY conference titled “The Poetics of Pain: Aesthetics, Ideology, and Representation” sent to my academic self. (I blogged this startle on el tercer ojo.) But it is an appropriate title. Given that we met via the wonders of usenet, technology, for better or worse, has been involved in Paul and my relationship, discipline and punishment included, since the beginning. Although some of the technology thankfully went away when our relationship went from long-distance to living-in-the-same-house, technology remains a significant part of both of our lives.
This is not going to be a discussion of how technology can assist those in long-distance relationships at “this thing we do.” While it doesn’t seem so long ago that most of my punishments were done via email or phone, really it’s been more than seven years since Paul moved here, give or take an interruption or two. I think that counts as several lifetimes in the word of technology. Because of that, this probably isn’t the right entry for anyone looking for long-distance discipline ideas. (Natty can probably give plenty of thoughts on that subject, but rumor has it she’s a bit busy at present.) That said, ever since I got a new MacBook compete with webcam, I check in terror to make sure the green camera light isn’t on every time Paul has me bent over my desk chair for a quick slippering to “focus” me on my work. This is crazy because I never actually use the webcam for anything so it’s never on. **
Even though phones, webcams and Skype aren’t part of discipline or punishment scenes and we’re not long-distance anymore, technology in various forms plays an important role in our relationship. A role, which for me, has lately made me feel watched over in ways that, frankly, push a lot of good and powerful buttons. What works, both in the senses of being effective and attractive, is feeling I’m being watched over and held to specific expectations. The idea is that I’m seen –inside and out– by someone who can’t be fooled and holds me to account. That’s both the fantasy and the ideal.
Not much to ask, is it?
It’s a huge amount to ask of anyone and a near impossible task, especially with regard to me specifically. Yet I have asked for it and Paul and I have tried various ways of fulfilling this need / desire. Repeatedly, over a period of years.
[Note: If you don’t think this would be a lot to ask, that’s because you’ve either never tried to keep track of another human being, even with their consent and cooperation (more on that later) or the ones you’ve kept track of have been a lot easier than me.]
This past summer (for my birthday), Paul gave me a fantastic present –an iPhone. Keeping in mind prior to getting this slick bar of technology my mobile was a pay-as-you-go Virgin throwaway, I’ve been utterly dazzled by it, so much so that for the first month I downloaded no apps as I studied quite hard to learn about its many features. One of the first things Paul showed me was how the phone worked with the account he’d set up for me with Apple’s MobileMe (evolution of Mac.com — which was a better name if you ask me) service. MobileMe auto syncs with the phone my calendar program, to do lists and a bunch of other things, but the most “gee wiz” bit it does is a trick called “Find My Phone” which basically locates the iPhone (within about 20 feet in the city) using Google maps. It can be programmed to set off an alarm and even lets you send a message to take over the phone display (and even wipe it if needed).
Paul’s thought was, given what a forgetful ditz I am, this would be useful to locate the phone when I inevitably misplace it and panic.*** It would also make it easier for a kind and honest person to get the phone back to me. But MobileMe could have other uses, as my mom was the first to point, out. It can function as an electronic leash (yes, my mother actually called it a leash). Using it, if he wants to, Paul can basically map my location all day long. I’m not sure whether he does or doesn’t actually use it very often (likely not). However, like the fact that he can punish me if he chooses, the fact he can check up on me like this is comforting and makes me feel watched over and looked after. There have been two occasions in our time together when I’ve lost track of time and arrived home to discover Paul was expecting me hours before and was quite worried about me (one of those times he actually met me on Wilshire — he was out searching for me as I wandered back from the gym at 11pm). That he can now locate me if he wishes and not be worried is great. I’m pleased too that he can even come and find me if he wants.
[Note 2: This entry isn’t meant to be an ad for Apple / iPhone or MobileMe, I’m sure there are other services, like Google, that do the same thing — this is just what I know. As the BBC says, other services are available. If you have experience with any of them, please please write about them in the comments.]
Another useful part of MobileMe is now my calendar and ToDo lists are on the web as well as being on my computer and the three constantly update each other. They can be modified from there too. This allows Paul to check and add to my “ToDos” or put items on the calendar. Another similar service (MyDiary) lets track my food and water intake on the phone and send Paul daily or weekly reports. He can also go online and check those entries. I know a lot of people would find this sort of survalience or even the possibility of it, oppressive or even creepy. I understand their feelings. But given that I’ve long experienced anxiety when I’m away from home and among strangers, so much so I’m sometimes trapped by it, knowing that Paul can — could be watching, even if he likely isn’t, makes me feel looked after and secure.
So yay for technology, right?
Yes and no. Because in the end it’s like everything else we’ve ever used, be they a physical “punishment book” or daily tasks chart or my old filofax. It only works if we both use them. That starts with me — I have to be the one filling out my calendar, keeping my food journal, checking ToDo lists and the like. While it’s true in theory that Paul could be the one to push on those issues too, in reality that would be too much. I’ve mentioned in in the past, but will repeat, This Thing We Do works when Paul’s giving helpful pushes, but his pulling me along never works.
The technology helps, but in the end the iPhone can only do so much. The rest is up to us. Mostly up to me — which is the way it should be.
**We’ve talked about using the cam and video chat so he can check up on me during the day. Thus far it hasn’t happened, but again, I find the idea quite attractive. Scary too.
*** For more evidence of said ditz-iness, see my twitter posts for last week and the chaos I brought into Paul and my life by leaving my purse (not my iPhone though) on the bus. Fortunately fate looks after fools and children so the purse and its contents were given back to me safe and sound.
[A discussion of more playful spanking and kinky apps is here on my personal blog.]