Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Food for Thought, and for the Soul

Pleasurable Consumption is a very vast subject. Once the survival needs of the body are taken care of, what do you look forward to?

Most people then move on to seeking pleasure.

It is not necessary to define pleasure, except to note that certain neurobiological processes are involved.

Cognitive pleasures and affective pleasures are usually interpretative and imaginative in nature. These armchair-pleasures, as it were (e.g. Watching television, communicating over email or over the phone, computer games, listening to music, reading, surfing the internet, indulging in virtual social networking), are to create an imaginative world in the mind, in which narcissism regins supreme. I am the king (or queen) in these virtual worlds.

These pleasures provide the illusion of being connected, while one is increasingly isolated and alone.

This illusion and sense of self-importance needs to be sustained and nurtured by repeated affirmations, hence the addiction to these pleasures, which addiction is reaching epidemic proportion in urban affluent classes.

What, for example, is the essential reason of posting something on Facebook for most people? It is to seek acknowledgment of one's existence, an affirmation of one's tastes, a sense of sharing the intimate details of one's life in an increasingly crowded but lonely world.

And is it not true, that if nobody responds to your posts, nobody replies to your emails, and nobody comments on your status updates, you get depressed?

We are moving from sharing of experiences in the real world (conversations, walks, eating together, singing and dancing, playing together) to sharing in the virtual world (people doing all these, except dancing perhaps, while being physically isolated).

The need to belong, to connect, remains, but given the constraints of modern living, the easiest way in which to fulfill this need is via the global telecommunications network.

Many decry this change, many herald this change.

Just like in a pornographic film, in which the lovers simply and without much of a prelude and fuss engage in sex, digital pleasures are cutting to the chase and addressing the pleasure center without addressing the physical body.

The time is not far when even the eyes and hands (the screen and the keyboard) will be unnecessary. Direct control of the computer from the brain, and direct feedback to the brain. Further down, I speculate that the feedback may even stimulate the sensory centers, to the extent of providing a full sensual experience, completely virtually.

In this paradigm, the body is seen only as a vehicle of geting pleasure, and if pleasure can be directly and instantly delivered to the brain, why bother with physical acts? Why bother getting up from the couch?

More and more, I think, we will see pleasures (and ads, which support them) being more precisely targeted.

Physical health is obviously going to suffer, but are there any other consequences?

I think, firstly, digital entertainment is going to result in intellectual devolution for a vast majority of people. Some will use the new tools to further their understanding, but most will use these to augment their existing biases.

Digital entertainment puts one in control. Whether it be a click of the mouse, or pressing a button to change a channel on the TV, one is enabled to be more and more impatient, selective, and intolerant. Since now one has the power to not perceive what one does not want to, what happens to intellectual growth? There is no incentive (or lack of choice) to watch something which one may not agree with. And disagreement, criticism of one's ideas, and dialectical engagement is the essential ingredient of intellectual growth.

Secondly, facts take a backseat, and perceptions and impressions and opinions become primary. After all, if one's primary interface to the world is through a screen, what is the difference between a war shown in a movie, and a war shown as a news item?

Thirdly, the democratic process is undermined. What is the value of an opinion, if it is based on what you have been told? Driven by what is most visible in the digital world (controlled by media houses), and given that it is too much effort to find out what is really true in a flood of information, most people are going to end up believing what big media needs them to believe.

Fourthly, actual relationships (if any) will get burdened from the stress of conforming to virtual idealizations. What was earlier a teenage fantasy (the Mills and Boon romances) is now an adult expectation, due to the larger and larger role media and its depictions of relationships (and physical beauty, and sex) are playing in our lives.

There are many more consequences, but these derive from the above.


Do you have a choice of disengaging from the virtual/digital world and still not feel lonely, isolated, without anyone to share your experiences with? What if most of your relatives, friends, colleagues are deep in the "matrix"? Will you be able to coax them out? Isn't it true that these days, people resent you if you take them away from their phone, computer or television? What will you do without using the very tools of communication that others are hooked on to?

It is a tough problem, and is going to become much tougher. What are your thoughts on this new world, where with your minds and souls being nourished through wires, your body is only useful as a provider of blood sugar to your brain?

Is the day far when education will be primarily how to learn to use a computer, work will be primarily how to instruct a computer and to create digital content, and entertainment will be primarily hooking on to the computer?

Look around.


S. Hall said...

Greetings Harman,

Nice post. It provided a perfect moment for self-reflection. It's unfortunate, but when my nearest daily contacts (co-workers, family, casual friends) are individuals not interested in learning, I find that opening a challenging book or visiting a blog like this one, for instance, is my only recourse to further my personal and social understanding (the authors - dead or alive - provide the illusory intellectual connection to another human being). I'm more like a modern Narcissus than a Goldmund, which is something I might need to reconsider to find a better balance.


Harmanjit Singh said...

Thanks MM.

This news just in:

S. Hall said...

Wow. Takes "stream-of-consciousness" writing to whole new level.

S. Hall said...

Regarding videogames:

"And, for all the talk of addiction and dependence, the massive growth of social gaming suggests that most of the doommongers are wrong. We shouldn’t be worrying about gamers being sucked out of real life into a realm of unreal satisfactions. We should be looking, instead, to the gradual infiltration of play into our daily lives—the ways we socialise, express ourselves and, increasingly, think about everything from work to education to warfare."

And then (without any intentional irony):

"'Children now see everything in 15-second bursts,' one headteacher told me. 'Gone are the days when they sat for 30 minutes copying off a board: they expect the world to be singing and dancing. One teacher uses Twitter live in her class, live links with Australia for geography, posting stuff on websites: this is a world that even five years ago wasn’t there. But for the pupils, it’s not like, gosh, this is something new. They grow up with this technology. It’s part of who they are.'"

Taken from:

Harmanjit Singh said...

ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder) is in large part based upon the availability of choices and the ease with which one can switch from one thing to another.

Pankaj said...

thanks for the very nice article. it is something i think of a lot, being myself rather hooked to the net.

this problem is not completely new. in the TV era, there was the phenomena of "couch potatoes", where you could live by simply planting yourself in front of a tv all day, and living your life through the characters on the screen.

however, the internet absorbs you much much more, as it requires active involvement as well. and the problem is almost universal, considering internet usage in urban youth.

. said...


Nice post - well stated. Margaret Atwood's book "Oryx and Crake" is another interesting take on where this all may lead...


Harmanjit Singh said...

Hi Pankaj and Rick, thanks for your comments.

Rick, I will check out the Atwood book. I read her, unrelated, "Surfacing" a few years back and enjoyed it.

Harmanjit Singh said...

Vindication of my hypothesis from

"34. The Internet today is, after all, a machine for reinforcing our prejudices. The wider the selection of information, the more finicky we can be about choosing just what we like and ignoring the rest."

Anonymous said... one person's opinion means vindication of your limited vision of what internet is doing? while your comments are well meant, they are a bit slanted.

Arun.N.M. said...

I think you are being too pessimistic about networking technologies I believe similare apprehensions were expressed when ever technology changes Every thing have good and bad effects.