It’s not breaking news: the technology industry has been dominated by men for what seems to be forever, and the same can be said about the porn and sex tech industries. But, more recently, things have appeared to be slowly shifting. More people are showing an interest in new technologies and how they affect our everyday lives. Millennials, as well as gen Zs, want to understand the technologies they previously took for granted. The sex tech industry is undergoing a much-needed shift, and Iris Luz is the living proof of that.
Luz’s aim, through her sex tech magazine Pc Erotic, as well as through her writing, collaborations with big brands, and her podcast, is to challenge how people perceive technology. Screen Shot spoke to Luz about what should be expected from the upcoming second issue of Pc Erotic, where her interest in technology comes from, and her opinion on the changes that the fashion industry is going through.
Born and raised in London, Luz comes from a mixed background, having a Portuguese mother and a French father. “I’ve always been to French schools, my whole ‘young’ life, and then I studied in Amsterdam, then came back here. I also lived in Lisbon,” said Luz. In Lisbon, Luz saw her interest in technology and the internet develop when she realised that she had to figure out a way to keep a link with London. “When I moved to Portugal, it was before it became a place for creatives, it was very traditional, and it was during the economic crisis. The only way that I could tie back to the country where I was born was through the culture of the internet. So I spent a lot of time on it, looking at tech and different aspects of the tech culture.” From then on, Luz just kept on researching the darker corners of the tech world, until she found her niche—the sex tech industry.
Launched in November 2018, the first issue of Pc Erotic sold on Ben Ditto’s shop was described as “a publication which celebrates and attempts to understand the complex issues brought up by human sexuality and technology.” While some may not fully understand the message behind Pc Erotic, Luz knew exactly what she wanted to create and what message she wanted to convey to her readers, “I started thinking about Pc Erotic’s content at the same time Black Mirror was starting, and before the Cambridge Analytica scandal. It was the start of people saying stuff like ‘tech is going to kill us all’. I really wanted to make something that showed the opposite of that, or maybe not the opposite, but a publication that would start a new dialogue around technology, one that isn’t so negative.”
Of course, things are not always black and white, and it should be noted that technology can’t only be portrayed positively. As much as Luz knows that, she still feels the need to shed some light on the more fun and artistic parts of our digital age, to make this sometimes unapproachable world more accessible to younger generations. That’s why, along with her magazine, she created an Instagram account for Pc Erotic, @PcErotic, where she posts facts and memes that slightly mock the relationship we have with technologies and what it predicts for our future. “I created the magazine first, but the Instagram account was a support that came before the magazine was printed and published. The idea came from how tired I was of magazines, and the other media companies, portraying technology in a non-accessible and very foreboding way.”
Talking to Screen Shot, Luz revealed that, surprisingly, the first issue of Pc Erotic did not get any bad feedback, “Everyone was happy that a person that wasn’t particularly tech-savvy or from an older generation tried talking about different aspects of sex and tech, in a fun way. A lot of people are tired of that extreme political correctness that comes with news and information today.” When asked if the publication had at least made a few conservatives upset, she laughed and explained that “the magazine is so niche that conservative people probably haven’t accessed it.”
The second issue of Pc Erotic is coming out next month, one year after the first issue. This time, Luz wanted to steer away from how our civilization will process technologies in the very near future, and focused instead on the way we process information right now. “It’s about fake news, post-truth, and the concept of misinformation. For example, fake news as a concept isn’t just about feeding a lie to someone, because anyone can say a lie to someone and they could look it up and see that it’s fake,” Luz explained. “But now, it’s more about creating so much conflictual information that one person kind of loses track of it and somehow gets ‘brainwashed’ or pushed into certain ways of thinking.” This strategy of ‘brainwashing’, like she says, could easily be linked to Donald Trump’s presence in the media, and Luz is quick to agree, “He’ll say ‘Oh no, I’ve never said that’ and then say the complete opposite. The point is, it’s always creating that sensationalism of information, rather than the simple truth, because the truth is so easily accessible.”
Platforms like Twitter (Trump’s favourite), Facebook and Instagram are also part of what constitutes our tech-addicted lives. Talking about Instagram and how it affects her, Luz explained that social media platforms should not be the only ones to blame, “While I don’t think any platform should be exempt from critiques, people, especially in this day and age where everything is tailored to the individual, are quick to blame other superficial things for their own insecurities, which is a big part of cancel culture. For me, when people have something bad to say about platforms like Instagram, I just want them to remember that before Instagram, there was Tumblr, and before that there were always bullies.” In other words, don’t hate game. “That insecurity that you’re feeling,” Lua added, “you’re always going to feel it, whether it’s on a little screen that is amalgamating and saturating everything for you, or whether you’re out and you’re seeing your ex-boyfriend talking to someone prettier, you will go through that anyway.”
But, like everyone else, Luz also knows that Instagram feeds us an infinite amount of content for us to analyse, self-compare ourselves to, and sometimes criticise. Her advice? Look at the positives that this can bring, “It makes me self-reflect and self-aware, and pushes me to reflect on my identity in different ways, so I can then express that on the platform. It betters my perception of different people and even different information.” In today’s content dominated culture, the only way forward seems to be nonchalance.
While Luz has perfected the art of nonchalance, she also admits that, with what our society throws at us daily, it can be hard to keep cool. Fashion is one of those topics that push her to protest, and she’s not the only one—from Extinction Rebellion’s call to cancel LFW to Gucci’s last show where a model protested, the fashion industry is slowly crumbling down. “No one is kidding themselves, fashion is inherently capitalistic,” she says. But should young creatives be blamed and punished for what has been going on for decades? Luz celebrates creatives and upcoming talents. Her solution? Slowing down things: “Creation is inherent and should be encouraged in fashion, but there needs to be some sort of breaking point where people realise how the rhythm of the industry needs to slow down.” And just like with everything else in her life, new technologies look like a potential solution to Luz, “Maybe there should be a different means, with the help of technology, to process fashion creations. We could make it more present virtually, to slow down real-life production.”
While many aspects of our digital era can be scary and should be acknowledged, Luz’s work, through her magazine Pc Erotic, her podcast, and her writing, is here to force us to keep a cool head. No one can say for certain whether technologies will save the world or destroy it, but hope and positivity never hurt anybody. After all, who could say no to a bit of sexy tech, especially when in dire need of a distraction from data scandals and climate change deniers? Certainly not me.
Augmented reality (AR) filters, or, more commonly, face filters, are now all over our Instagram stories. Not only do we have access to the typical and predictable ones made by in-house creators at Instagram, but we can now also use more experimental ones, created by independent artists that share the filters on the platform.
Previously only available for Facebook and beta testers, the software Spark AR Studio that lets you create custom face filters and other effects for Instagram is now available to all users. This is the chance for up-and-coming visual artists to post their own filters on the platform, and the perfect way for them to reach a bigger audience. One of the most successful AR filter creators, Jade Roche, also known as @ramenpolanski, started creating them just for fun when she first saw that the Spark AR Studio software was available to anyone, thinking, “Really, can we do that?”
Face filters boomed on Instagram after the ‘Beauty3000’ filter was released by Johanna Jaskowska aka @johwska. Her most famous creation was a phosphorescent mask that wraps around the face of anyone using the filter, making them look almost robot-like with perfect skin and pastel reflections. Not long afterwards, this new aesthetic took over Instagram as more people started using ‘independent’ filters, including the ones of Jade Roche.
At 28, the French artist already has an impressive career resume. She’s a photographer, video maker, and graphic designer, but, mostly, she describes herself as a visual artist. Roche has worked with the famous French music label Ed Banger Records, and also helped to organise Corsica’s popular summer festival Calvi on the rocks. “I’ve always been into visuals, whether it is photography, video, or more recently digital. It gives everybody easy access to software that allow people to create whatever they want.” The first filter Roche created, called ‘LA TOUR EIFFEL’, is a face mask that simply adds the Eiffel Tower on the user’s face.
Since releasing that first viral filter, Roche has been experimenting with new and more complex ideas, like her most famous one called ‘PSYCHO’, a filter that circles the user’s silhouette in a multicoloured line instead of just covering their face as most filters do. A few months ago, at Paris Fashion Week, many celebrities used ‘PSYCHO’ as well as some of Roche’s other creations, with big names like Kendall Jenner, Bella Hadid, and SZA adapting it repeatedly, shining a light on Roche’s talent as well as her Instagram account. Talking about her newborn ‘fame’, the artist stays humble, “It’s like if I had created a new fashion brand and gave some free clothes to my friend and it somehow ended up on someone famous.”
But creating fun filters for Instagram users requires more than imagination, psychedelic inspiration, and coding skills, all of which Roche has plenty of. It also demands from the creator an understanding of the platform, its users, and what they want. “I’m a 28-year-old girl who lives in Paris, I use Instagram and Facebook a lot. That means that the people I’m creating for are just like me. I create filters because I would use them myself.”
Most AR filter creators on Instagram are software developers, whereas Roche comes from a creative background, meaning she’s got “the visual skills more than the technique”, which explains some of her more surprising designs for Instagram. “I think more about how it’s going to be received on social media, and how people are going to use it than about the filter looking perfect”.
We live in a constant obsession over our social media appearance, and so it would make sense for filters to give us an opportunity to transform our faces and pretend to be someone else. Talking about our selfie culture, Roche maintains a positive outlook, “Filters give us an occasion to reinvent ourselves; some use them to ‘ameliorate’ themselves, but filters are just an excuse to post a selfie. I find selfies amazing. Something big is going to happen in the future. Filters only boost people’s need to post on Instagram.”
It seems that Roche is right. Even though filters push us to give in to today’s selfie craze, creators of this new aesthetic also refute the message that previous filters were spreading, which encouraged young girls to look ‘perfect’, to have full lips or hide their real nose with a fake dog nose. Most of the ‘independent’ filters don’t perpetuate traditional beauty standards. They’re more creative and experimental, and are not created to make Instagram influencers look more beautiful. Shimmering masks and rainbow-coloured backgrounds are mixed with darker designs, some particularly otherworldly—a new aesthetic that people are slowly adopting.
Talking to Screen Shot, @fvckrender, another face filters creator, says he wants to step back from making Instagram filters, “I’ve stopped making them because I didn’t like the attraction it brought to my profile, I want people to enjoy my work, not just my filters”. Unlike Roche, @fvckrender’s opinion on selfies and how important they’ve become to us is not enthusiastic, “I think the selfie addiction is a real problem, and depending on the creators, it can be more damaging or less damaging with the face filters added on top of that, this is why most of my face filters have a self-help meaning behind them.”
The rise of augmented reality filter creators and their newly found ‘fame’ could be an indication of what’s to come for Instagram and its influencers. As a new important part of Instagram, some of these artists are slowly beginning to resemble influencers. “There’s almost a new market with filters and filter creators, where the creators’ profiles look like the new version of influencers,” says Roche, adding, though, that “It’s hard to know for sure.”
From the ‘like’ feature possibly disappearing to influencers wearing digital clothing, there are numerous possibilities concerning the future of Instagram. What about filters? Roche dreams of filters that would allow users go into a virtual room, grab items on the screen, and look at them from every angle, “Imagine not having to get out of your house at all!”
Augmented reality filter creators are still testing most of their work out. With the Spark AR Studio software now being available to all users, it raises the question of exactly how big the trend could become. Until then, Roche has her future planned out, creating filters as a hobby and freelancing the rest of the time. “Wherever this is going, clearly, it’s not changing my life, but it accelerates things by giving me visibility.”