Mortality and Love in the Digital Age

Let’s get meta.

Picture on this post is of zero relation. I just like snow. And Kanon.

This post was originally conceived of as a while back, but Fractale’s setting has motivated me to actually drag my ass to my keyboard and birth this damn thing. After all, Fractale is in a sense of a future “what if…” for our current state of being, a place wherein the digital has taken over to the point where people send forth avatars of themselves into the real world in order to do their real-time living.

Actually, as a mindscrew, consider: the world we see in Fractale is actually inside of a computer. Clain is actually himself a doppel, although he doesn’t realize it. The other “human” characters are also doppels. The doppels that look like doppels? Their real-life counterparts are outside of the system somewhere, but the difference is that they are aware of this, whereas Clain is not.

I don’t actually think this is where it is all going, but, hey, food for thought and all that jazz.

So, in Fractale people don’t go out at all, they just like sending their doppels to experience life while they sit at home. We know that Clain’s parents live separately, and Clain himself is unused to interacting with real, live people. So… how did Clain come to be, exactly? Are babies still made the old fashioned way? Or are they grown in test-tubes? I could see a Terra e…-style situation, wherein babies are made in test-tubes, and then assigned to a pair of parents who will raise them until they are old enough to have their minds wiped and attend vocational school. Which isn’t to say that anyone’s getting their minds wiped here, but, rather, that Clain may not even be related to his parents.

Of course, are we even sure that his parents are “real”? How do we know that they aren’t themselves simply computer programs designed to raise a child? Which, I will note, in turn begs the question – what is “real”, anyway?

Although I didn’t exactly get to it in the manner I wished to, this sort of brings me to my central matter: what is love in a digital context? What does it mean? What is its nature? Is it “real”?

This sort of meditation fits more neatly into the paradigm of online dating, honestly, than it does on an anime blog, but I think it does have some relevancy here, too. We like to joke about blogcrushes, and being “gay” for other bloggers (of course, what does that even mean itself?), but I do know that some of us have “legit” crushes on other bloggers. But what exactly is that? What are we reacting to, precisely? Their body of work? The way in which they present themselves? What are we feeling attraction or admiration for?

Its an interesting series of questions to consider, especially as the notion of falling in love on the internet flies in the face of the trend toward boiling down human attraction to chemicals. Pheromones in particular have become quite a popular explanation for it all. But if one isn’t in physical proximity to another, then pheromones cannot work their little magic. And if pheromones are the magic touch, then what is going on here?

I’m actually a bit unconvinced as to the holy grail qualities of pheromones, as I have experienced being in love with the idea of someone long after my feelings of affection for the actual person had faded. Given that, I think what we are watching is people developing crushes on the idea of a person, and not necessarily on the blogger themself – or the person on OkCupid, I Love Your Accent, Plenty of Fish, et cetera. On the other hand, I would argue that this doesn’t exclude any possibility of developing feelings for the person, as has been demonstrated by a million internet dating successes. It can serve to endear one to a person prior to actually meeting them. I think online communication certainly makes is easier to then meet a person in real life, since one feels as if they already know them (and maybe they do – what is it to know someone, anyway?).

What does is mean to “know” someone? I carry into this since I wish to shift gears slightly to the matter of death on the internet (death and the internet?). This is where this post was originally born, in considering the meaning of death in the context of an online community. I was prompted into thought by a story I heard on the radio about a man who was part of a website dedicated to traveling, and who passed away, seemingly vanishing from the website. Others wondered where he had gone, and managed to get in touch with the man’s wife, who informed them that he had died.

What happens when we die and we leave behind this internet legacy? What happens when we die and those we leave behind are not simply our real-life friends, family, neighbors, lovers, teachers…? Is it warranted to mourn for someone one only knew online? Do we truly mourn for those we lose whom we only knew online? What is it to mourn, anyway?

I suppose it all boils down to – how much of this is real? Which, in turn, brings us again to: what is “real”?

I value the real world over the digital one. I could live without the internet, although it’d be hard, but I could not live locked in the same room forever with just a computer. I enjoy exploring the world too much for that, and, more specifically, I enjoy exploring the world by myself too much for that. I am the person who goes a-wandering for a few weeks and leaves my cellphone and computer behind. At school, living in a residence hall, I managed to on multiple occasions go an entire weekend without interacting with anyone else, including over the internet. I value solitude much too much to go into a room and stay there with a computer for the rest of my life. I need the sort of emptiness that one finds by going to the middle of nowhere and just staying there for a bit, free from computers or phones.

And, yet, I would not argue that everything that we have online, that we do online, that is online isn’t real. I consider the bloggers I interact with regularly to be friends. But I think that the concrete experience of the world outside of the internet is real-er, if you’ll pardon such a silly way of describing it. If a tree falls in a forest, and there’s no one around to hear it, it still makes a sound and has an affect. If a tree falls on the internet, and there’s no one around to hear it, it still makes a sound but there is no effect. I think that’s the best way I can describe it.

You’ll notice that I’m not really answering any of these questions. I don’t have answers for most of these questions, quite simply. But I think it is worth raising them, even if I myself cannot answer them. Sort of like the usage of consciousness raising by feminist groups – if you start making people aware of questions or the state of things, then it starts up a conversation. Even if the conversation doesn’t yield any concrete answers itself, it could also raise some other questions and introduce some different perspectives.

For now, though, I’m going outside. Hopefully no trees will fall on me.

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10 Responses to Mortality and Love in the Digital Age

  1. There’s a Ballard short story — ‘The Intensive Care Unit’, I think — about a future where everything is done remotely (the narrator courted, married and raised a family via what we would now call videoconferencing).

    I’ve played MMOs with very few restrictions on what players can do to one another, and this comes up fairly often in relation to how much, if at all, meatspace morality carries over into virtual space (especially if that virtual space is explicitly a game). The obvious case is when someone harms someone else in the game world, but it cuts the other way too: how loyal am I to a friend if I’m only loyal in a game?

    But I don’t really have any answers either. In my own case, as a kind of solution, I’ve wound up meeting face-to-face with my in-game friends, which has worked out pretty well so far.

    • adaywithoutme says:

      Yeah, I’ve managed to meet some bloggers, which has been pretty cool.
      A future wherein everything is done remotely sounds downright nightmarish to me…

  2. Substitute “meaningful” for “real” then we have a more powerful idea IMO.

    I sometimes have these awkward moments with myself thinking how important these online relationships of mine have become. After all, I see my real friends rather seldom given each other’s work and other life activities, but online people are kind of there all the time.

    Via status updates I know more about what’s going on with them, than I do with my meatspace friends (unless they are facebook whores and I end up ignoring them instead). I don’t have answers either, but instead contribute this:

    A person’s body of work, especially something autobiographical, is HIGHLY unreliable. I’ve been reading alternative biographies of notable intellectuals, and I find how easy it is to distrust autobios, especially confessionals.

    Why is autobiography relevant here? It’s something to do with the first-person gonzo nature of blogging. Even if my own sharing and accounts are 100% accurate, they will only show a limited aspect of my life — and it’d be silly to view mine under the lens of being a fan of anime and manga more than other things, despite how I involve greater aspects of my life in my writing.

    In the end the power rests almost entirely on the reader. What meaning will she get from all this and how much will she let it influence her thinking, her life?

    • adaywithoutme says:

      I like your suggestion for substitution.
      I think I alluded to the power of the reader in saying the bit about people falling for the idea of someone as opposed to the actual person. I tend to disparage post-modern readings of things, but it makes a lot of sense in this context.
      I would make the argument that over time an online persona tends to become more like the real-life person. Hyper-connectedness also makes it more difficult to keep up a particular front; the more material there is, the more likely it is that the persona resembles the person. Its just a matter of quantity and control.

    • Ryan A says:

      I’m in agreement here. What someone tells us about themselves (either via thoughts, opinions, or “digital” actions), is difficult to fully confide in. I believe there are certain aspects of the virtualspace which offer interesting insight into others, but it is in no way a full replacement for developing an understanding of someone in meatspace. Some will argue and contest, because they feel a textual representation is satisfying enough, but I’m saddened by those who would believe they, as humans, can be contained with words alone… especially their own words. (I mean, fuck, that has Halting problem written all over it)

      “Meaning” offers a useful lens. We can choose what we want to take meaning from, and through meaning, I feel we can develop a useful impression of a person. Yet taking meaning, which may not fully match intent, seems to be a subjective path, but maybe that’s the key. We can never objectively know someone, but subjectively, aha. (It’s whatever we wish to believe)

      P.S. Sorry it took so long for me to read and reply ;-; I enjoy the thoughts day 🙂

  3. Baka-Raptor says:

    Well, this post has certainly put no pressure on me to live up to my online persona. Nope, none at all.

    • adaywithoutme says:

      Haha, well, that’s not why I posted it… anyway, I’m sure you’ll be just as awesome in real life as your are online =)

  4. Cenebi says:

    I think what you’ve discovered is that, at least as far as relationships go, reality is not black and white, one or zero, but a scale.

    While usually anything what happens on the internet is not as real as anything that happens in the “real” world, this isn’t true for some people. A friend of mine is much, much closer with people she has never met in person than she is with me, who she’s known and lived near for nearly ten years now. For her, we could assume those online relationships are much more real for her than most offline ones, as irritating as this may be for me. (Seriously, she calls/IMs with them every damn day, but in order to talk to her, I have to call her pretty much every day for 3 days before she finds time to call me back)

    As for mortality, I often wonder if any of my friends online will notice when I die. Will anyone will bother to so much as log onto my Twitter/blog(hahahnoonereadsthat) and post a simple message to inform people of such an event?

    • adaywithoutme says:

      I actually ended up writing a letter and taping it to my bookshelf detailing what should be done with my blog in the event that I were to die. I feel a bit weird for doing so, but I wouldn’t want to just vanish and leave people wondering, y’know?
      I think its very easy in some ways to get to know people on the internet better because you are not face-to-face. Its sort of like how its easier to speak candidly late at night when tired or when the lights are off.

  5. Abscissa says:

    You brought up an interesting topic. Please allow me to share my perspective. I believe that it doesn’t really matter whether we live and love in reality, digital world, or fantasy because these are just all mere states of mind. Reality becomes the “true” world because we label it as true, and same way with digital being “less real” because that’s how society programmed it in our minds. For instance, I can equate or turn my digital world as my “real” world, but the problem no matter how hard I try I can’t because society won’t fully allow me and it’s beyond what is “conventional” that is defined inside me. Now, I’m not saying to accept nor reject the digital era. To cut this short, what I’m trying to say is “reality”, “digital”, and “fantasy” are ever changing variables, it’s up to us how are we going to assign values to them. And, one thing is for sure, as long as we are thinking and our legacy lives, we are living.

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