4 Inches of Embarrassment: Humour, sex and risk on mobile devices
National University of Ireland, Department of Media Studies, Maynooth, Ireland.
University of Salford, School of Health and Society, Salford, United Kingdom.
University of Turku, Department of Media Studies, Turku, Finland.
Early in the 2000s, a link to a website ending in “nimp.org” was circulated via email. The link opened up to a blinking image alternating between a rainbow flag and gay pornography, accompanied by a three-second clip of a male voice amped up high in volume, shouting, “Hey everybody I’m looking at gay porno!” (For a partial, SFW YouTube excerpt, see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BN5k-8njOMM.) In addition to the potential social awkwardness that watching this media product at work might have caused, nimp.org routinely froze and crashed the user’s computer by opening up new pop-up windows with the same content much faster than these could be closed. The computer’s sound card could also keep on playing the file even when all windows had been successfully closed. Allegedly connected to the internet trolling organization “Gay Nigger Association of America”, the site’s routine became known as a “nimp”. The nimp relied on the embarrassment caused by loudly calling attention to pornography – and specifically that of the male homosexual kind –being consumed in spaces of work. In work environments of the early 2000s, these links would be opened on desktop computers and laptops in workspaces that readily shared the sight and sound of nimping with colleagues to achieve maximum embarrassment. Nimps are a good example of content we would describe today as NSFW, not safe for work.
The idea of something being NSFW is rooted in a sense that certain engaging online content is associated with potential loss and risk in an employment context. This has also bled into our personal lives as the idea of something being not safe for life (NSFL). Oftentimes, NSFW content is shared and experienced as humorous, partly because of its status as being out of place. There is thus both the potential of pain and pleasure for both the receiver and recipient: NSFW is a tag and label for content that both averts and engages. As nimping demonstrates, NSFW content has been circulated online for decades. In this short piece, though, we want to explore how the move from desktop computing to mobile devices, and from web cultures of the early 2000s to social media, has re-articulated elements of these practices.
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