Artificial intimacy became the evil of the century – 03/19/2023 – Ronaldo Lemos
Esther Perel is a psychotherapist. She was born in Belgium, the daughter of holocaust survivors. Today she is a professor at New York University and an expert on topics such as loneliness and contemporary relationships, including romantic relationships. At the SXSW festival, held in Austin, Texas, which ended yesterday, she stole the show. Out of a plethora of talks about technology, her talk about human behavior was the most important in my opinion.
She developed the fascinating theme of “artificial intimacy”. Her argument is that we are living our lives in a permanent state of partial attention. When we interact with our friends, lovers or family we are never 100% present. Our attention is always split between people and our cell phone, social media, message alerts, and so on. In this context, real intimacy is not possible.
Social media and our cell phones act as selective anesthesia for human relationships. We want the good parts of living together, which are in our interest, but we avoid friction, uncomfortable conversations, boredom, etc. Whenever something uncomfortable starts to materialize, we retreat to the comfortable and controlled world of the cell phone, which distracts us from what is truly human.
This is artificial intimacy. We are all collectively experiencing the still face experiment that psychologist Edward Tronick carried out in the 1970s. In it, a mother is first recorded interacting normally with her 6-month-old baby. She smiles, the baby smiles back. She says something and the baby laughs. In the second moment the mother paralyzes her face. She stares at the baby without expressing any reaction. The baby then laughs. The mother remains impassive. The baby then starts screaming. No reaction from the mother. The baby comes in then cries and screams desperately, until the mother resumes her normal reactions and welcomes the child.
In the world we are living in today, we are all mother and child at the same time. As we are incapable of giving full attention to others, we are always in emotional debt to the people around us. At the same time, we are also the baby, hungry for attention. There has never been such a great need for listening and acceptance as the one we collectively experience in today’s world.
Esther calls us to rebel against artificial intimacy. Demanding and giving full attention to those we relate to. To take the difficult step of accepting conflict and friction as part of human relationships, and thus stop partially anesthetizing ourselves all the time. Without this, we will be forced to live with relationships that we deem “defective” all the time.
A survey carried out in the US in 2019 pointed out that 22% of “millennials” today have zero friends. 25% say they don’t know anyone. Many have a huge number of followers on social networks, but really friends, none. In previous generations, the number of unfriended people was around 9%. It is no coincidence that anxiety and depression are one of the topics that circulate the most on social media today among teenagers and children alike. In the age of artificial intimacy, it is not just friendships that are at risk, but also love and family relationships. Fasten your seat belts for the society of loneliness, with disastrous consequences for all areas of human life.
It’s over Baby Boomers Saying 91% Have Friends
Already Generation X saying 85% have friends
It’s coming Most Millennials and Gen Z have a large following but no friends
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