Our Potentially Disembodied World

Now that so many of us are staying at home in the midst of the coronavirus, the nature of personal contact has been changed dramatically, at least temporarily. Not only are people no longer shaking hands with each other, and keeping their six foot distance from them, but likewise something else is taking place which over time might become much more insidious. This is how people, in lieu of the sort of physical connection with others which is no longer available to them are instead communicating virtually with others on sites like Skype or Zoom.

Of course, there is absolutely nothing wrong with this use of virtual communication when more direct, physical communication is no longer available to us on any type of regular basis. In fact, given the present circumstances which the virus has forced us all to accept, this is in fact a welcome positive development in terms of permitting us to continue the personal communication with others that is so acutely important in the time of a fear-inducing crisis like the present one.

At the same time, however, there is very much a certain unseen danger that might be occurring as we now habitually skype and zoom with each other. This is simply that after the virus has passed by, people will continue out of habit to increasingly communicate with each other virtually rather than when they are in the actual presence of others; this former type of communication being not at all the same as the latter, with some potentially damaging developments occurring.

One of course is that when one communicates with someone who is on the other side of a plastic screen, that communication is disembodied in a way that actual personal communication with someone is not. That is, being in the actual physical presence of someone with whom one is conversing is part of a larger sensorial experience that bring whatever one is discussing with that person into sharper focus, whereas if one is just conversing with someone on skype or zoom, that same fully embodied experience simply doesn’t occur.

There have been recent studies which have demonstrated that when one is holding an actual book in one’s hand, rather than just using an e-reader, one tends to become more physically absorbed in whatever one is reading. And so consequently, one’s comprehension is greater. No doubt, it would seem that the very same dynamic might occur in the case of someone who is encountering another person on skype or zoom rather than in person, only in a much more profound, all-encompassing way.

The difference is that actual physical communication with a person or situation leads toward one experiencing the full spectrum of experience which is provided one when they are completely attentive to their surroundings. While virtual communication significantly limits that spectrum; the difference being much akin to the difference between a walk in the woods on a beautiful Spring day and scrolling through pictures on one’s phone of springtime scenes; the former being more all-encompassing simply because it is more embodied.

So the question obviously becomes one of asking that if people keep skyping and zooming at the rate they are now doing after the virus has finally ended, will this result in a shallower, more disembodied world, one which become the new normal for us on a more permanent basis? Or will people want, more than they want to remain with virtual communication, to be re-united with a physical existence which allows them to sink into the totality of their experiences? We shall see.

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