One of the major points that has been brought up repeatedly in this column since its inception is that modern technological living environments create configurations of stimuli that are difficult for humans to absorb. These configurations of stimuli can have elements that are both understimulating and overstimulating. They are the foundation for vacuum and tension-pocket living environments. These environments are the major sources of sensory distortion for humans in today’s world. They are environments that don’t produce the organic stimuli that humans normally need to survive and thrive.
Yet obviously humans have found some ways to somehow adjust to this sensory distortion. Adjust but not totally adapt. How does a mammalian human being totally adapt to the tension –pocket noises and fumes of a modern factory or the experiential vacuum created by all the different devices involved with screen reality. The only way of totally adapting would be to become a machine oneself. A robot or an android or a cyborg. Then one could more fully interact with the other machines and the computers, and the Internet of Things and the 3-D printers and the augmented and virtual realities and all the other available manifestations of modern technology. It would be like immersed with like.
But humans are too mammalian to be able to fully absorb mechanical and digital stimuli. They feel the presence of these mechanical and digital stimuli without fully absorbing them. These mechanical and digital stimuli – defined discrete stimuli – leave impersonal marks on people’s minds rather than leaving organic imprints. As a result they can create either non-enduring memories or overwhelming traumas but no easily absorbable coherent memories that can be useful for creating personal surrogate immortalities in preparation for death.
So it is practically impossible for humans to fully adapt to the sensory distortion created by the mechanical and digital stimuli that come from modern technological living environments. The key problem here is the lack of capacity to absorb and assimilate these technologically-based stimuli. To absorb something is to introject it but with an implication of doing it in a more intimate tactile way. Yet, as has been discussed before, touch is one of the senses the importance of which is diminished in the configurations of stimuli created in modern technological fields of experience. Which is why absorption as a metaphor for touch is such a difficult process to carry out today.
And with a dearth of organic experience to be able to absorb, it becomes very difficult to construct meaningful life narratives that carry a person from the beginning to the end of his life. Because a person is not simply where he is at a given point in time but rather the whole flow of experiences he has absorbed from his birth to his present day. And this includes both the organic imprints of experiences he has received from others as well as the organic imprints that he himself has created. Without the flow of these organic imprints, a person becomes, to a great extent, the sum of a series of disconnected isolated impersonal events. And so the person becomes a series of chopped-up life situations to which he has adjusted, not fully adapted, on his life path. But without an organic temporal flow, there is no coherence in his sense of self. And a person without a coherent sense of self is a person who is well on his way to becoming a robot. And to avoid this outcome, this is why it is important for a person to be able to properly absorb the life situations to which he is exposed. Which is why it is important that a person be able to literally and metaphorically touch that with which he comes into contact.
To simply adjust to sensory distortion is not enough if one wants to be able to lead a healthy functional life. Adjust in this case means giving up so much of that which makes a person essentially human. Granted that we all, nevertheless, have to deal with modern technological environments to some extent in order to survive today. It is the world in which we live. But, at least, in those moments of time we can call our own, we don’t have to voluntarily always utilize modern technology for recreation. During Covid, we will use Zoom to communicate with others. But we can also have primary experiences with people with whom we choose to form a bubble. We can engage in hobbies and avocations. We can do exercise, take walks in parks. We don’t have to sit glued to a screen reality. In other words, we can find experiences that we can fully absorb as humans, rather than simply adjust to. We can try to find those life situations to which we can fully adapt to.
Now it is important to realize that many of us have spent so much time adjusting to modern technology that we have paradoxically lost our capacity to fully absorb the organic stimuli that our mammalian natures were meant to absorb. The best metaphor I can think of for dealing with this situation is to think of how scuba divers have to come to the surface slowly so as not to create any major medical problems like the bends. People who have been very separated from organic stimuli for a long time have to reintroduce it into their lives gradually so as not to be overwhelmed by it. It took a period of time for these people to become separated from their mammalian natures; it will take time to reconnect with them.
But eventually, it is very important that we can find life situations where we can fully absorb what we encounter, if we want to stay psychologically healthy. Humans aren’t meant to be robots or cyborgs or androids or even avatars. And trying to adjust to life situations where they have to behave like technologically-based non-humans creates psychopathology that is detrimental not only to individuals, but within the larger picture of things, to groups, communities, nations and all of humanity as well.
(c) 2020 Laurence Mesirow