Comment on Social Networking Tools and our Future Society

Xarene Sun, Nov 23, 2008

"I could die for the touch of a woman like thee" D.H. Lawrence

Cyrano's motives in sending another to recite his words for his object of affection can be seen as an attempt by him to increase the desire of his desired one. The desire to physically touch, hear and see is the basis of the culture of "fans" surging to see a movie star or rock star or author or anyone for that matter whom we have a mediated experience of. This is simply because of the overwhelming superiority of "live" physical senses. Why did girls scream and cry and desperately tried to touch the Beatles or Michael Jackson? Why do we still flock to concerts and talks and such and go up and shake hands all doey-eyed with those whom we admire? There is something to be said for seeing, hearing and feeling the real thing.

Aside from cultures resulting from the desires of physical experience, we have terms in our language—english—that relate to touch: "being out of touch with reality" or actions being "tactless" or "touching" or one having "the Midas touch". The topic of language and literature can grow into a book on hundreds of poets and authors writing of 'being in the presence of' an admired/worshipped/despised/... one.

Now, for those who bemoan those who bemoan loss of traditional senses of being and feeling, it is important to consider the interstitial time of the human specie's transformation from an embodied being into a disembodied or technologically modified entity. Of a few scenarios which can take place, the loss of human connection to each other can threaten the continuity of the "human" race. As we move towards a digital body that engages in digital relationships of any kind—intellectual, romantic, etc—we can lose (and are in the process of losing) the quality of interconnectedness between two and more humans which is only brought on by the sense of touch.

My concerns of over-involvement in social networking sites are not about humans becoming more, or less, interested in each other; we will maintain interest in our environment and those that occupy it and interact with us. I am critiquing the loss of physical senses which are intertwined with what makes humans human. If physical senses—in particular touch—did not matter there would not be thousands of scientific papers studying our senses in relation to social and psychological behaviour. Touch elicits and modulates human behaviour and early tactile memories shape our future behaviour. The loss of the ability of humans to emotionally and physically connect with one another ends the human race. Therefore, the next step of our evolution—if a purely digital evolution void of physical senses—is an evolution out of our species. In the period of this transformation, from one specie (human) into another (clearly non-human and superior), the human specie will suffer. ('Superior' because I acknowledge our embodied emotions being what makes us, is also our downfall.)

I agree that occupying digital space in lieu of physical space should alleviate unnecessary migrations and redundancies and inconvenience of physically being somewhere. But the optimization of connectivity should not make us want more and more (digital) connection, and should instead be employed by us to allow us free time in which to play—physically play, run around and chase and laugh and grab and tumble and kiss and cuddle. Right now, we are slave to the web connectivity, "not knowing when to turn off" as Carl Honore puts it.

So I ask, similar to Spaceweaver's question in his first comment on our role in increasing the quality of connectivity: What can we do to ensure that digital habitation of the human specie does not result in the demise of the specie?