Comments on a cultural reality between past and future.

This blog describes Metatime in the Posthuman experience, drawn from Sir Isaac Newton's secret work on the future end of times, a tract in which he described Histories of Things to Come. His hidden papers on the occult were auctioned to two private buyers in 1936 at Sotheby's, but were not available for public research until the 1990s.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Love in the New Millennium 2: The World Turned Upside Down

Welcome to the Age of Aquarius: Cerebral innovation? Yes. - Love and sex? Not so much. Aquarius (2003). © By Kagaya.

Susan Miller, the famous American astrologer, recently speculated on love in the new century as part of a piece she was writing for Elle magazine.
She argues that the full shock of tech boom from 1998 to 2010 was so enormous that it turned human intimacy upside down. It was not just a new era in terms of how we set up our calendar. The way we think about ourselves and each other was transformed. Global communications left us reeling, with dozens, then hundreds of ways to make contact. This mesmerized and toughened us, creating illusions of intimacy and cutting people off from their hearts and souls. Now that we have absorbed the tech shock's first wave, Miller thinks that people will step back, take stock, and find themselves and each other again. She declared: "Love improves in 2011."

In her promotion of her Elle article, Miller writes:
"[T]he Internet is neither good nor bad but a reflection of who we are, or more correctly, who we have become. The answer lies in our hearts, our character, and our values, and that's where we need to focus our attention. This is the tricky part, because with Neptune in Aquarius since 1998, the whole selection process in mating and dating seems to have shifted from the heart to the head. The needs of self have moved to front and center, shunting the corresponding needs of the new, just-met applicant-significant other to second place. This is in part due to the way computers can sort large amounts of information and to the influence of the very public social media. (Of course, how well the computers sort information depends on how they have been programmed, which, as discussed above, is a little like the tail wagging the dog.) Back in 1998, Neptune set up a huge cultural change when it moved into Aquarius. Cooperating at the time with Uranus, the planet of genius and breakthroughs (Uranus was in Aquarius 1995-2003) and with Pluto, the power planet (then in fire sign Sagittarius 1995 to 2008, a sign associated with the media and global interests), Neptune, Uranus, and Pluto revolutionized communications through digital forms, the area of life Aquarius rules. The strides the world has seen have been unparalleled and those gains will remain with us. It is the side effect that our new world has brought that fine tuning, for Neptune in Aquarius is a bit too intellectual and analytical to fit well with matters of love. Judging by my reader mail, most think the process of falling in love has become too difficult. We are all working longer hours now, thanks to the productivity that computers have made possible, so we fall back on the path of least resistance - online dating - to find someone special to love. Something has to change and thankfully, there is hope!"
I do not know if that will be the case for Generations Y and Z, who have no experience of romance before the Tech Boom. They have no other points of reference, unless they switch off their devices and begin to look at the history of the world that is still alive around them. For all of us, tech gadgets are harsh masters; it is hard to turn off the virtual drip-feed once it has started.

Susan Miller suggests that online dating has made love into an exercise of bizarre, selfish soullessness. She does not mention internet porn, but it's the elephant in the room when it comes to contemplating technology and sex. Is porn on the Web making people more sexual - or less? People are more disconnected about being connected than they ever were before. The University of Warwick is planning to publish a book on the rising trend of asexuality (the call for papers is here):
"Within the past decade, a growing number of individuals, self-identifying as asexual, have come together to form asexual communities. Although self-definitions vary widely, many of these individuals describe themselves as experiencing little or no sexual desire. In addition, they do not regard asexuality as a pathological condition but, rather, as a variant of human sexual expression. For researchers in the field of psychology and related disciplines, the elaboration of asexual identities and the growth of online asexual communities raise a range of empirical and theoretical questions which have heretofore gone largely unaddressed."
Did people know more about sex back in the good old days?

Bacchanalian Scene (1710s). By Alessandro Magnasco. Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg, Russia.

Maybe.  Back in the good old days, orgies were held out in the open air at pagan temples of worship, not in chatrooms.  Of course, lifespans were also a lot shorter and there was no electricity.

Is Susan Miller right - will people pull back from the initial twelve-year shock and become more loving and human? On 8 October 2010, Douglas Coupland, the author of Generation X: Tales for an Accelerated Culture, wrote a piece for The Globe and Mail, A radical pessimist's guide to the next 10 years.  He predicts a loveless world:
1) It's going to get worse. No silver linings and no lemonade. The elevator only goes down. The bright note is that the elevator will, at some point, stop.
2) The future isn't going to feel futuristic. It's simply going to feel weird and out-of-control-ish, the way it does now, because too many things are changing too quickly. The reason the future feels odd is because of its unpredictability. If the future didn't feel weirdly unexpected, then something would be wrong.

3) The future is going to happen no matter what we do. The future will feel even faster than it does now. The next sets of triumphing technologies are going to happen, no matter who invents them or where or how. Not that technology alone dictates the future, but in the end it always leaves its mark. The only unknown factor is the pace at which new technologies will appear. This technological determinism, with its sense of constantly awaiting a new era-changing technology every day, is one of the hallmarks of the next decade.
5) You'll spend a lot of your time feeling like a dog leashed to a pole outside the grocery store – separation anxiety will become your permanent state.
6) The middle class is over. It's not coming back. Remember travel agents? Remember how they just kind of vanished one day? That's where all the other jobs that once made us middle-class are going – to that same, magical, class-killing, job-sucking wormhole into which travel-agency jobs vanished, never to return. However, this won't stop people from self-identifying as middle-class, and as the years pass we'll be entering a replay of the antebellum South, when people defined themselves by the social status of their ancestors three generations back. Enjoy the new monoclass!

9) The suburbs are doomed, especially those E.T. , California-style suburbs. This is a no-brainer, but the former homes will make amazing hangouts for gangs, weirdoes and people performing illegal activities. The pretend gates at the entranceways to gated communities will become real, and the charred stubs of previous white-collar homes will serve only to make the still-standing structures creepier and more exotic.

10) In the same way you can never go backward to a slower computer, you can never go backward to a lessened state of connectedness.

16) “You” will be turning into a cloud of data that circles the planet like a thin gauze. While it's already hard enough to tell how others perceive us physically, your global, phantom, information-self will prove equally vexing to you: your shopping trends, blog residues, CCTV appearances – it all works in tandem to create a virtual being that you may neither like nor recognize.

17) You may well burn out on the effort of being an individual. You've become a notch in the Internet's belt. Don't try to delude yourself that you're a romantic lone individual. To the new order, you're just a node. There is no escape.

22) Your sense of time will continue to shred. Years will feel like hours.

23) Everyone will be feeling the same way as you. There's some comfort to be found there.

24) It is going to become much easier to explain why you are the way you are. Much of what we now consider “personality” will be explained away as structural and chemical functions of the brain.

25) Dreams will get better.

26) Being alone will become easier. 
27) Hooking up will become ever more mechanical and binary.
28) It will become harder to view your life as “a story.” The way we define our sense of self will continue to morph via new ways of socializing. The notion of your life needing to be a story will seem slightly corny and dated. Your life becomes however many friends you have online.

33) People who shun new technologies will be viewed as passive-aggressive control freaks trying to rope people into their world, much like vegetarian teenage girls in the early 1980s.

1980: “We can't go to that restaurant. Karen's vegetarian and it doesn't have anything for her.”

2010: “What restaurant are we going to? I don't know. Karen was supposed to tell me, but she doesn't have a cell, so I can't ask her. I'm sick of her crazy control-freak behaviour. Let's go someplace else and not tell her where.”

34) You're going to miss the 1990s more than you ever thought.

35) Stupid people will be in charge, only to be replaced by ever-stupider people. You will live in a world without kings, only princes in whom our faith is shattered.

36) Metaphor drift will become pandemic. Words adopted by technology will increasingly drift into new realms to the point where they observe different grammatical laws, e.g., “one mouse”/“three mouses;” “memory hog”/“delete the spam.”

45) We will accept the obvious truth that we brought this upon ourselves.
I am of two minds about Coupland. One minute, he is snotty, trendy and irritating, so that he seems to be part of the problem. Then he writes something transcendent and redemptive. Turning the gadgets off and pulling back is possible. And if not, and the Internet reflects us, then it must at some point reflect the good in us. It should not only testify to our total and willing enslavement by our new tools.

One of the best metaphors for love I have seen came from another Canadian writer, Stephen Leacock, in a story for the collection, Arcadian Adventures With the Idle Rich (1914). Arcadian Adventures which was his humorous portrait of Gilded Age America. It was a companion volume for another collection, a satirical portrait of Canada in the same period, Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town (1912). In Arcadian Adventures' The Love Story of Mr. Peter Spillikins, the protagonist is distracted by superficial glamour and fake charms, while true love, quiet, green-clad and humble, stands unnoticed at his elbow.  He never recognizes it for what it is - he wants something hot and sensational. You can read The Love Story of Mr. Peter Spillikins online here. Susan Miller may have a point, but so does Coupland. People are no longer seduced by each other. They are seduced by the Internet. It will be hard to get them to turn away from that all-consuming obsession. We are standing at a crossroads; and our hearts could go either way.

For my other posts on Love in the New Millennium, go here.

1 comment:

  1. Great entry. Yikes to Coupland points numbers 6 and 16 and a chuckle for number 33. Beautiful little painting of roses.