A phenomenological approach
'A phenomenological approach and the desire for potentiality'
In this fast-paced technologically-driven society, when it comes down to relationships we are now more than ever before faced with a contradictory and paradoxical double pull.
On the one hand, we strive for and desire what our parents aspired to, which, in turn, was what our grandparents had: the nuclear monogamist family unit with a mortgage, a car and the right education for our children. On the other hand, thanks to the advent of new technologies, we seem to be obsessed with newness and individuality, which goes hand in hand with a constant desire to reinvent ourselves and the way in which we experience relationships.
Reality is changing. The threshold between what is physical and real and what is virtual and hypothetical is becoming more fluid. Our perception as a whole is changing, and therefore, our relationship to intimacy is also undergoing transformation.
In a way, what we are experiencing is a new phenomenology of the technological which parallels the physical and experiential. For at any given time, we are both our physical self and the virtual representation of our self.
We are now more than ever before able to interact and connect with many people at the same time, making it easier to broaden our horizons and to dream beyond our physical boundaries. Whilst we go through life we are constantly writing about it through our Facebook and Twitter personas, at times almost forgetting to experience an event, by hastily immortalizing it into a single still image to upload on our profiles. Even in death, our Facebook persona can continue living on for years after we have passed away, through the posts and updates of others who wish to keep our virtual self alive.
Furthermore, with the advent of devices such as the iPod and iPad
we are alsochanging the way in which we relate to touch; touch is now associated with a whole new series of meanings which are functional as well as sensual and experiential.
Paradoxically, whilst virtual forms of human interaction increase, one-to-one physical interactions risk becoming obsolete. If I choose to do so, I can spend many days without having to speak or experience physical nearness with another human being.
Whilst physical closeness to anyone other than our immediate sexual partner becomes a rarity, the idea that we are so closely interconnected through cyberspace and so easily contactable via emails, Viber, Skype, Facebook, you name it, gives us the appearance that we have many options out there in terms of relationships and alternative ways of being in relationships.
It seems to me that herein lies the risk that the potential and the virtual might override reality and that commitment to one will become more and more utopian. Moreover, no matter how much we choose to employ technology to interact with one another, paradoxically, as a society we are faced with being more physically alone than we have ever been in the whole history of mankind.
A physical closeness to people other than our sexual partners used to be a daily experience. Through the concept of extended family, even as children we were passed on to grandparents, aunts, uncles and immediate friends of the family. Our physical relationship to others was broader and did not limit itself to our immediate parents.
Furthermore, if we think back to recreational activities prior to the advent of the Internet, there were many more occasions in which, through social forms of interaction, we would physically touch individuals other than our sexual partners.
In Argentina for example, where tradition is still very much part of the culture, the practice of Tango is closely linked, if not based on the idea of a physical intimacy that borders on the sexual, without it becoming necessarily sexual. Moreover the practice of Tango is also cross-generational, as it encourages people of all ages to experience movement and touch. Yes, of course there is an aspect of Tango that does not exactly promote gender equality, in the sense that the dominant dancer, the one who leads, is traditionally, the man. However, I do think that there is the potential and possibility for playing more with role reversal in this practice.
At the heart of Tango dancing, there is a powerful underlying principle, that is, to broaden physical intimacy to include more than one partner. In doing so, the sexual interest in our partner also benefits from the titillating effect of watching them (and at the same time being watched) dancing cheek to cheek with a stranger. In a way this process also allows ambiguity and mystery, which in turn, ignites excitement in the couple. After all there is nothing more erotic then seeing your partner desired and sought after by others, for it reminds us that they are, in the end, choosing us amongst all the options out there. What these forms of social physical closeness provide is a space in which to tease and experience physical ambiguity without necessarily employing sex.
No matter what ratio between virtual and real we choose, at least for now we cannot escape the fact that we have physical limitations. Since we have not yet discovered pure virtuality we still have to deal with our physical needs. And these needs include our necessity for touch and physical interaction.