Sunday, July 11, 2021

More on Artificial World

Bsking includes a link in the comments under "Artificial World," describing (and sympathetic to) fraysexuality. Jesse Singal points out that this is actually quite similar to a developmental stage at around 12 or 13. With the many new types of sexual attraction being claimed, I am increasingly convinced that these represent something missing developmentally, rather than something wrong in the usual sense.  They are not so much a choosing a new type of sexual identity as displaying an inability to choose a fully developed identity.

I keep thinking of Jonathan Haidt and The Coddling of the American Mind, that graduating class of 2014, therefore college graduating class of 2018 (or so), the first generation to have personal devices from middle school on. I think these alternate sexual identities can only exist in a primarily online world.  They are not sustainable interactions in the physical world.  Grim emphasised physicality, even pheromones.  I would add to that the thousands of subtle signals of eyebrow, tone, pause, distance to we use in normal development to "read" what the people around us are communicating.  The old cliche that we communicate only 10% of our meaning with words and the other 90% non-verbally is not measurable and is imprecise, but it captures an important truth nonetheless.  Children are growing up with less experience of this and it impairs their perception, like the fictional children raised by wolves.  Additionally, the online signals of text and video are new territory, with new meanings and subtleties.  Many of us learned to be very careful what we communicated in email at work (and likely in personal life as well) because it is much easier to be misunderstood. The context of spoken interaction is just different in a hundred ways. I have responded by writing in a style that uses much more punctuation, italics, and other tricks.  Younger people use emoticons and additional abbreviations (LOL, AITA?) to enhance context.  Video expressions are developing their own nuances and cues, but these are still minimal, inadequate.

So what happens to identities that are not sustainable outside the internet?  In a private email, bsking noted there are real-world supports that are ultimately necessary for us all, a network. Someone to give you a ride to the doctor, or watch your children for a few hours in an emergency, or even come through with larger support in longer crises, such as words of encouragement distributed over months, or a gift or a loan of an expensive item. Or just friendship - a kind word, feedback for an idea, commiseration at injustice, suggestions on a dozen topics. Families used to provide this, or neighbors, coworkers, or longstanding friends in an era when people moved less often.  But in the era of moving more often and having smaller families Americans have less of this, and observers of the cultural scene have been concerned for decades that such support is eroding. Putnam's Bowling Alone was alarming 20 years ago. We have become even more fragmented since, and now have a generation on our hand which has a large percentage of the cohort missing important developmental pieces - with no understanding what the lack even is. 

We tend to think of these internet narcissists and ravaging hyenas as broken, but they might not even be rising to the level of brokenness. 

So what happens?  Do they gradually acquire the missing pieces in later years? Do they double down on defending their inadequacies as the fault of others not understanding and respecting them? Do they develop alternative ways of relating? And heck, maybe they find things that work. Yet I don't know how one replaces thousands of years of evolution and cultural cues overnight.


james said...

That they are crippled seems plausible. Did you ever read A Case of Conscience by James Blish?

Assistant Village Idiot said...

I had not read it. I just read the wiki. Point some things out to me it would be good to know.

james said...

The alien Egtverchi hatches inside the vase. His kind is supposed to metamorphosize through many phases--froglike, etc--and his confinement to the vase prevents his developing the strengths appropriate to each phase in turn. He emerges apparently normal, but in fact crippled physically and psychologically--and with a mean streak unknown to his ancestors.

It seemed like an interesting, though fictional, example. Unless you're a fan of the genre, you aren't missing much.

David Foster said...

Another factor is that with smaller families, fewer people grow up with *siblings*, which also means that they don't meet and interact with the friends of those siblings.

Grim said...

I don't know if you saw this post, but it treats a similar problem arising from novels in the era of Goethe:

In a way it's the same problem, because it arises from shifting sexuality into the realm of the imaginary and ideal rather than the physical. But -- as David Foster suggests -- there is another parallel. The loss of a beloved probably bit harder in the 18th century when you were only going to meet so many girls in your lifetime, and the ones physically close to you were practically often your only options. (Substitute 'boys' etc for those so inclined.)

Today it bites hard because, though there are a gigantic number of girls on the internet, practically a young person actually know almost none. They're unavailable images on a screen, ready fodder for imaginations but untouchable in the literal sense.