NYC’s High-Tech Sex Workers Carry BlackBerrys and Advertise on Facebook

How are the world’s oldest professions using the world’s newest technology?

Wired’s “How Tech Tools Transformed New York’s Sex Trade,” by Columbia sociologist Sudhir Venkatesh, describes how sex workers are using modern tools to protect themselves and be their own bosses.

Mr. Venkatesh studyied the sex industry in New York City by following 290 women for at least a year. He found that technology has significantly impacted the way prostitutes do business. Sex workers are making their own websites in favor of using pimps and using Facebook to find clients instead of Craigslist.

“No self-respecting cosmopolitan man looking for an evening of companionship is going to lean out his car window and call out to a woman at a traffic light,” Mr. Venkatesh writes. “The Internet and the rise of mobile phones have enabled some sex workers to professionalize their trade. Today they can control their image, set their prices, and sidestep some of the pimps, madams, and other intermediaries who once took a share of the revenue.”

BlackBerrys are the preferred brand among sex workers, because it symbolizes professionalism and suggests the worker is responsible and disease-free. Seventy percent of sex workers carry BlackBerrys, versus 19 percent for the iPhone and 11 percent for other smartphones. Sixty-one percent of the women interviewed for the story had used Craigslist to advertise, but 83 percent have a Facebook page. “I estimate that by the end of 2011, Facebook will be the leading on-line recruitment space,” Mr. Venkatesh writes.

There are other growing technologies that could make the lives of sex workers easier, mobile payments being the obvious example.

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NYC’s High-Tech Sex Workers Carry BlackBerrys and Advertise on Facebook