In our modern technological society, many office workers are expected to be on call 24/7. This is one of the unfortunate consequences of owning cell phones. However, it is one thing for a person to be obligated to be constantly attached to his phone. It is quite another for a person to be voluntarily attached to his phone. In this case, I am talking about people who engage in night texting. These are people who go to sleep at night with their cell phones next to them. And this is not just a situation where a person wants to be always available should his friends or family want to reach him. These are people who actively text while they are asleep. I imagine that the stimulation of engaging in a vocal phone conversation might be so strong that it would actually wake the person up.
But not texting. People seem to be able to text while they are in some sort of sleep state. Sometimes the texts make sense, sometimes they don’t make sense. Sometimes the texts, perhaps coming from unconscious thoughts and feelings, can be potentially embarrassing. But this doesn’t discourage the night texts. The kind of person who night texts wants to always remain connected. For a person who feels like a free-floating figure in an experiential vacuum with little meaningful real grounding in his life, the text connection world provides an ongoing surrogate social grounding to protect him from becoming too numb and from psychologically falling apart in the vacuum.
Nevertheless, there are real consequences to such 24 hour text availability. In particular, it is an ongoing disturber of sleep. Scientists don’t seem to have any definitive scientific ideas about what sleep does for us, even though they seem to feel that sleep is very important to our lives. I would like to discuss sleep from the point of view of my social philosophy model, which, in this case, uses some psychoanalytic categories, but not in the customary way. Sleep is the deepest form of psychological grounding. Not only does sleep allow us to physically rejuvenate, but it allows us to put the different pieces of our experiential world together through the creation of grounded connections. This, in particular, is what dream sleep does, during which time we are living in our unconscious. Dreams allow us to put some kind of coherence to the narrative of our lives and, in so doing, to bring coherence to our senses of self. And with a more coherent sense of self, when we awake, we are more alive, more vibrant.
There are people who see similarities between sleep and death and they experience sleep as a temporary death, a temporary loss of consciousness. But as we can see, sleep is not no consciousness, but a different level of consciousness in which a person is still very much alive. Death is no consciousness, an absence of consciousness. We can postulate the existence of a surviving soul, even though there is no sure way of proving it exists in this world. But even if the soul exists and does survive after death, the person as a whole animate organism is permanently without consciousness. We can say that death is the deepest form of a psychological vacuum, just as sleep is the deepest form of psychological grounding. However, when both psychological vacuum and psychological grounding mix with different psychological figures – different defined figures and ideas – they both participate in different levels of consciousness in a fully alive human being.
In unconsciousness, a person’s field of experience is that of barely differentiated figures totally submerged in a field of grounding. By transforming the defined figures of our conscious wakefulness into those barely differentiated figures in dreams, we are thus able to experience more coherence in actions and our sense of self when we wake up. In preconsciousness, when a person is daydreaming and minimally aware of his surroundings, a person’s mental state is only partially differentiated figures of images and ideas still partially embedded in grounding. Again, preconsciousness allows us to do some integration of the pieces of our experiences while still being awake. In consciousness, the ideas and images are more fully defined and stand apart from the mental grounding in a largely vacuum mental state. But the grounding is still important to give the psychological figures a sense of position and stability. It is the grounding that gives thoughts a basic coherent relatedness, independent of logical figure connections, and allows the thoughts to be used for coherent strategies by a person’s will. Internal grounding helps to give a person’s mind a sense of independent agency in a field of primary experience.
And this is why a good night of sleep is so important. It rejuvenates a person and allows him to act with more coherence and more direction, to be more assertive in his daily tasks.
So what happens to a person’s mental state when he spends much of the night writing and sending texts as well as receiving texts? The person does not get to immerse in the psychological grounding that allows him to be rejuvenated. The person does not get to experience rapid eye movement (REM) sleep – the kind of sleep in which he can temporarily live in an experiential field of dreams. The person does not get to reground himself and to put the fragments of his figure sense of self together again. The person wakes up tired and numb. He wakes up as a series of fragments of self, floating in an internal experiential vacuum.
Night texting hasn’t been around that long, but I would speculate that in a long enough period of time, deprived of REM sleep, the person slides into becoming like a self-less will-less zombie. Like a robot. A person who mentally fuses with the cell phone machine from which he is unable to separate. Such a person will have a weakened will and a weakened sense of self. Without psychological coherence, the person will become susceptible to being controlled and manipulated just like a zombie.
I guess eventually this will serve the interests of certain powerful economic forces well. The mental state of the zombie will implement well the formal economic state of robitude, the modern economic answer to the servitude that has existed in certain more traditional hierarchical societies. As a zombie, a worker will be more placid and malleable, maybe not always as fully productive, but certainly less rebellious.
This gets back to the important question of why do so many people today feel the need to stay connected to other people through modern consumer technology 24/7. Why do so many people have difficulty today being alone with themselves? Perhaps, it is because with the lack of organic grounding in their modern technological living environments, people already suffer from lack of psychological coherence even before adding the element of night texting. And night texting appears as a sort of distorted mechanical communion with other people to compensate for the lack of primary experience organic communion in most people’s everyday lives. The paradox is that as people strive for some connection to other people through night texting, they are actually creating conditions, through lack of sleep and resulting lack of organic coherence, that make their psychological condition even worse. The cure becomes a part of the problem.
People have to find a non-technological solution to their lack of organic connection to others. Just as people are told to avoid caffeine (which can create an overstimulating experiential tension pocket) before they go to sleep at night, they should also avoid excessive involvement with modern consumer technology and have more face-to-face contact with live people during the evening. As much as possible. Less involvement with modern consumer technology during the waking hours will diminish the perverted need to stay involved with modern consumer technology even during sleep at night. And then society won’t have to worry about creating new generations of techno-zombies.
© 2013 Laurence Mesirow