February is the month of love, but it sure doesn’t feel that way now. This feels more like a time of spousal abuse and sexual harassment than chocolate hearts and romance. Love is out of fashion, the culture doesn’t believe in it much anymore. A couple generations ago we were urged to “get on board the love train,” but that caboose ran off the rails.
What changed? Reality changed. We virtualized our lives and lost our real ones. The digital life is seductive but unsatisfying. Because it’s not alive at all.
Love is biological; it is not virtual. We are biological beings. If you sense a love deficit, and how can you not, it’s because you’re human.
Be my virtual valentine? It’s not enough, is it? That requires flesh and breath. The difference between real love and virtual love is the difference between intimacy and internet porn.
This isn’t just a rant by a superannuated technophobe. The spiritual emptiness of the digital life is no secret; it’s expressed all over our language and contemporary culture.
Consider the two meanings of the word surf. Ocean surfing has a mystical place in our imaginations. Surfers talk about bliss, being one with the wave, the ocean, mother earth. When you surf you feel your body move, and your spirit, too. Surfing, at its best, is reverence, it’s a living being floating on the mind of God.
Then there’s the virtual surf of bytes and bits. The detached, alienated connection with every other digital entity through a cold, hard screen. You surf a screen with your eyes and maybe your ears, not active but passively consuming. You are not biological, you are a digital end point, a receptacle.
That’s why there is so much anger in the digital world. Screens are cold, anger is hot. Anger penetrates the screen. And then us.
One kind of surfing produces joy, the other angst. One is biological, the other dry and dead as a zombie.
Which maybe explains why pop culture is so captivated by the zombie apocalypse. Maybe it’s because we’re already living it.
Why does anger seem more relevant than love these days? Because we’re trapped in a web that feels like landfill. A vast garbage dump, littered with jagged edges. Shards of life, shattered by rage.
For all the “likes” we tap online, there isn’t much liking going on. Mostly we fight and insult and snark at one another. And why not, it’s only a screen we’re insulting. We rarely do that face to face. Face to face anger is dangerous, painful and bad for your blood pressure.
A screen has no blood pressure, it’s ice cold and responds best to hot emotions. But that screen is reflective, the anger we pound into it bounces right back.
We don’t have a Valentine’s day for anger. That’s because we recognize anger as a vice. But we’re in an angry time. If an ad has a woman in it, she’s always “fierce.” As if anger was necessary to be fully human today.
On some level we feel the dead hand of the digital on our souls, and we fight against it. Our sports have become more and more extreme because only facing death makes us feel alive. Used to be you could just go bowling; now you have to jump off the Matterhorn in a wingsuit.
The allure of the virtual, and it’s emptiness, are on full display in cat videos. A cat video is cute, watching them is addicting, and really, what’s not to like about a cat video?
Nothing, except that a cat video can never be a cat. A cat video can’t purr, or scratch, or love.
Nobody understands the dangers of over-technologizing better than the tech moguls. Tech gurus are very open about the damage their products do to children. Most of them won’t let their kids use the media they make.
Here’s the thing, though. If virtual, non-biological life is bad for kids, it’s bad for everyone. It’s the same as smoking. We don’t let kids smoke, but that doesn’t mean it’s not bad for adults. Smoking doesn’t become harmless because you’re over 18.
There is no turning back the clock, I know that. The virtual isn’t going away, we need to transcend it. We need to reach for love. Not the virtual golem of digital anti-social social love, but the real, biological thing.
Because we’re biological creatures. Analogue beings lost in a digital maze. Pixilated and furious.