Barenaked in Silicon Valley

Writer Richard Rodriguez spent a sunny afternoon in the Castro and got to meet one of the neighborhood's daring public nudists. That was even after city supervisor Scott Wiener initiated a ban on public nudity. Rodriguez makes the argument that these efforts fall in line with the city becoming a bastion of tech-fueled corporate correctness. "Public nakedness seems a relict of the last century in San Francisco, now that the city has become the real capital of digital Nowhere, a city clamorous with the sounds of breaking and building — a place where a young visionary class is deliriously rewarded for inventing the ways we leave our bodies behind," he writes in an essay for The New York TimesT magazine.

The spectacle of human bodies "en plein air" shouldn't even be a legally-forbidden spectacle, Rodriguez argues, because that is "after all, only what humans look like, only what humans are, when youth and batteries fail." In his eloquent essay, Rodriguez shares his insightful commentary not just on public nudity in Silicon Valley, but voyeurism, exhibitionism, objectification, gentrification and desire in the digital era.

Post-AIDS Clones

"During the AIDS years, raised violet lesions — proofs positive of intimacy — betrayed intimacy by betraying the body in public. The marked young man must still make his rounds with downcast eyes, walking with a cane. People passing looked away. The young man felt himself disappearing, from his clothes, from his mirror, from his eyes. From Rimbaud to Rambo: It became the fashion of some gay men in those years to arm themselves with muscles, as much as with condoms. Mr. Clean became an advertisement of health. A delusional gay male fantasy was developed in gyms, modeled on an aesthetic of strength as purity."

Nude Selfies

"In 1971, a decade before Wahlberg, Yves Saint Laurent, the most gifted couturier of his generation, had himself photographed nude by Jeanloup Sieff. Saint Laurent was selling, as it were, his scent, so nudity made some kind of sense. He wore the signature black-rimmed glasses by which we recognized him. His body was a faun’s body. His pose a mermaid’s pose. His gaze was predatory. His gaze reminds me of the gaze of the blank-faced teenaged boy who locks himself in the bathroom to stand in front of the mirror, to film his naked torso with a cellphone, attempting objectivity by submitting his body to a digital stranger, that stranger himself. Who is the voyeur?"

Google Glass

"We already live within the 19th-century romance of the robotically enhanced body. The United States military outfits warriors for combat with Modular Integrated Communications Helmets equipped with night-vision scopes. In the eyes of teenage boys, the soldiers resemble comic book superheroes. It must have seemed obvious to engineers in Mountain View: If so many people on the planet now walk through their lives holding their cells in front of them — like compasses, like divining wands, like seeing-eye dogs — why not incorporate a computer into the field of vision, a Google Glass, whereby one eye remains connected to the nervous sift of synthetic information, while the other eye navigates what we call — what do we call it now? — real time?"

The City v. Silicon Valley

"The advantage of shopping online, Silicon Valley encourages us to believe, is that one need not contend with bodies, with business hours, with complete sentences. The loneliness social media aspires to repair becomes the loneliness social media creates and exports to the world as "connection." Silicon Valley is lonely! In recent years, busloads of Silicon Valley engineers have exchanged the complacencies of the suburbs and the adolescence of corporate campus culture for pulse, contest, uncertainty, danger and commutes on overcrowded freeways every morning and evening... Gifted engineers are acknowledging a preference for all the complexities the computer was going to save us from: noise, crowds, lines, panhandlers, red lights, real time."