The Big Ideas of 2013

Sex and Simulation

Never the twain shall meet.
ERIN LEYDON

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Romance – the last frontier of automatization – has alas been taken over by the world of computers. Not pheromones, but algorithms now orchestrate our love lives.

When I first heard of this – that the world of romance was now ruled by high-tech dating technologies and matchmaking software programs that chart patterns in our personal data, seeking the binary code for compatibility – I was repulsed. What have we come to when we can’t bump into each other in the street, meet eyes, and actually feel the magic of chemistry running through our veins? The transcription of our flesh-and-blood selves into digital avatars seemed to me like an eerie, slow process of disembodiment. The exodus of more and more life activities from physical into digital felt not like “progress”, but rather, as if a dystopic sci-fi plot was taking over the world in real time.

“What are you, a Luddite? Don’t be so nostalgic!” That’s what everyone said to me. But I endured being labeled anachronistic and romantic: I was committed to my stance that something was deeply amiss...and that match-making software was the final straw in the rampant virtualization of everything, celebrated under false pretenses in the name of “efficiency”.

But then I moved... from a decently sized city to a sprawling metropolis: New York City. I guess I met some okay people at work, and at school. I had a roommate. But within months I realized that all these regular encounters were just touch-and-go, rarely adding up into real relationships. See in New York City, everyone is too god damn busy with their careers and their part-time jobs and their status and their turbo workouts – yes, even the starving artists, vagabonds and rogue Brooklyn hippies – that no one has “time” to unplug from the rat race and “chill”. That’s when I found myself desiring to do exactly what I forbade myself from doing: registering for an OK Cupid account. But I had no interest in dating at the time; I was just hoping to find someone who wanted to hang out.

As months in New York City went on, I met some sharp intellectual-types who urged me to correct what they perceived as my “philosophically naïve perception of the nature of technology and virtual reality”. They schooled me in Baudrillard, Heidegger and Steigler. They showed me how I was creating a false binary between what’s “natural” and what’s “unnatural”. As they cited the myth of Prometheus – with fire as the first technology, which man acquired a stolen gift from the Gods – they proved to me that “technological innovation” was something “natural” and endemic to the human condition. The only sound philosophical stances would be, as I was told, either: everything is “natural” or everything is “unnatural”.

Still, I sensed something creepy about the popularity of online matchmaking platforms. I felt that they offered a premonition of our future as a species whose mission on earth, hitherto for, has been to sexually reproduce itself, and multiply. Technosexuals (those who prefer robots or automatons sexually instead of humans) seem to be exceptional cases now, but just wait a few more years… robot love is on the horizon. “Hot” and “sexy” fembots are now used in an advertisement for vodka that’s unusually prolific across Manhattan, men masturbate to photos of women that are entirely digitally constructed, and the popularity of “RealDolls” (the world’s finest adult love doll) spreads from Japan across the globe.

Though my intellectual mentors, and experience, in NYC altered my evaluation of all of this, nothing can assuage the overwhelming, surreal, and disorienting feeling of the uncanny. It's like a miasma in my brain that thickens each day as we are immersed, more and more, into an entirely virtual hyperreality. As permanent fault lines cut jarringly into the real, are we not increasingly unable to distinguish the “real” from simulation – that is, to be philosophically correct, if we ever were...

Comments on the article “Sex and Simulation”

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Anonymous

With the knowledge that from a neurological point of view our perception literally creates the world in which we live. The line between what is and isn't real or natural is very hard to accurately place, and then defend.

Anonymous

Science aside, it is still up to us to shape our personal experience. If something feels unnatural, I say fight it! All this existential fatalism philosophy mumbo jumbo can suck it. Maybe it's all the hour-long bubble baths and chinese take-out that has you left with nothing to fight for?

colet93

I feel the same way. Many people today do their best to look really busy and have this super ideal life. I tend to not know who's the silly one, is it me for feeling content with not filling every void with a piece of technology? it bleeds into every other facet of life as well, I'm always on the lookout for a group of friends who are interesting and have conversations where I feel challenged and intrigued. But everyone seems preoccupied, unintelligent, or acting like they're better than you. To approach someone on the street and start a good conversation is nearly impossible today, but it wasn't always that way. Is it too much to ask for a small fraction of people who aren't overly embracing these new capabilities. Technology should be used when necessary, but it exists today to fill time, not make things easier.

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