We only had one computer in our house. It was a Compaq laptop, shared between six people, four of whom were adult enough to actually use it.
My parents used it sporadically, to type random things up. My father had a computer at work so he rarely needed the shared computer but this was my mother’s only tech outlet and she frequently turned to it to print out an occasional article or create a flyer for church. My older brother and I used the computer for school and general entertainment as did my younger brother and sister, on a less frequent basis.
We also used it for porn.
There weren’t any traces of anyone else’s activities but the shared computer and I had connected for secret meetings with a very specific purpose: to look at men. The times weren’t that steamy or weird: when the computer was in the extra bedroom, we searched for men in the late afternoon; when the computer was in my parent’s bedroom, we looked on early weekend mornings and when they weren’t home; when the computer was in the living room, we looked very late at night; and, when the computer was wandering, actually being taken advantage of as a laptop, the times were eliminated. The wandering was nil, though. It had to remain stationary. Before wireless Internet or smart phones, the shared computer had to be at its station, for all to use.
No one ever caught my searches. Somehow, by some wise savvy of youth, a tech intelligence was available to me, arming me with the ability to delete histories and wipe cookies. I passed through the shared computer without anyone noticing that I was searching “hairy men, no shirt” whenever I was alone with it.
What people would have found wouldn’t have been that scandalizing outside of the fact that these were same sex people; moreover, it could easily have been pawned off on someone else, spiraling into a family sized Clue. Everything I ever looked at was PG-13 and hidden behind message boards out of a fear of being caught. Scores and scores of daddies lounged before me without shirts, fleshy and fit and posed around similar spaces I shared with the computer. Perhaps they, too, were escaping when they could to be manly with other men. They didn’t have sex and were never nude but they were doing something that someone shouldn’t know about, something that required a closed door in an office or a late evening escape. That’s why we all met up at specific URLs to admire each other: it was the only outlet available to share an interest.
The shared computer always kept my secrets. I never did have that tension of someone printing out a listing of websites that were visited, to yell at everyone involved with the computer, interrogating Who went to hairy bears dot com? whilst shaking a sheet of paper in faces. That never happened. I’ve always been very good at keeping a secret. The shared computer and I had that in common.
There was a brief encounter with being outed thanks to the shared printer. The shared printer was always frustrating with a reputation of being too slow, too unreliable, and too confusing. If we needed to print directions in a hurry, the shared printer was not who you wanted to go to for help. If you were running late and had to print those church announcements, the shared printer was there to let you down. It was big and wobbly, a constant tech ramble to frustrate you that these tools were not quite there yet. The shared printer represented more of a hint at the future instead of being the future. We all hated it for that.
When babysitting one night, as my parents were out and my siblings were involved in their own rooms or with the television, I indulged in my hairy man curiosities at the shared computer’s station in my parents’ bedroom. I knew I didn’t have much time. To extend our pleasures, the shared computer and I decided to create a document—The document.—of the hairy men, no shirt that I would be able to glance whenever I wanted to, a palm sized pocket pleasure. As I created the document and pushed print, I could feel little eyes behind me. Minimizing the screen, the presence and I connected: my younger sister, five or six, stared and prepared to ask a question. It wasn’t about the hairy men, no shirt but about a permission.
In a heat—of stress and pre-pleasure—I pulled her in for a deep hug and asked her what she needed, shielding her away from the shared computer. The shared printer rocked in place, burbling out the document. She eventually pulled out of the hug and ran away and I, knee jangling and sweaty, awaited for the shared printer to finish the never ending job so I could run away to the bathroom to be with the document. I deleted and deleted and crashed and crashed Microsoft PowerPoint™, eliminating any trace of the document. The trash was taken out several times as a precaution. Once finished, I ripped the page out before the shared printer’s release and ran to the bathroom to be alone. I showered for hours, pasting the document to tile, stuck by moisture, for me to stare at the hairy men, no shirt and think about touching them, climaxing in exchange for thoughts about naked women. (I was a very complicated teen.) The document was eventually ingested in a heat, a moment of stress where I was afraid of being outed for my antics with the shared computer. There was no specific threat but I made my peace with what I had done and chewed up the document one evening as an appetizer before dinner, swallowing the blurred climactic men into my processor.
The shared computer eventually became less and less shared as both we and technology aged. We got cell phones. They didn’t have Internet but I could sext men from message boards with them. We each got our own laptops. Barely mobile but individualized for sexual instant messaging, nevertheless. We all moved on, the shared computer died both physically and intellectually, and we’re here today with technology that can mimic my searches anytime, anywhere.
It’s not the same, though. Looking up my own lust point—”hairy men, no shirt“—brings up something too coiffed. Then it was so relatable and ordinary. It was quaint. The searches are everywhere, abundant, more than what you wanted in them. The search is lost. Then they were more unique, harder to find, more of a novelty than norm. Like the shared computer, things changed and certain novelties of youth became unnecessary.
Some things remained the same, though. Desires, unlike technology, continue, shared and unshared, in public and private.