Friday, May 28, 2010

Infinite Proximity and Other Things

I think I have a few more posts  to write before I can publish The Blog Post, but I wanted to communicate where I'm at right now.  My working thesis is something like the following:

Through a close reading of John Donne's poem A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning, it can be extrapolated that he viewed romantic relationships that were "elemented" by physical proximity as less meaningful than relationships that were transcendent of it.  However, as social media tools have become more prevalent, we're experiencing the phenomenon of infinite proximity, which means that all relationships are or have the potential to be transcendent of place.  The metaphysical experience of being able to transcend science has become a reality.  This paradoxical reality can be interpreted as beneficial or detrimental to society, but in the end, the lesson to be learned is that technology cannot take the place of the transcendent, spiritual connection between lovers Donne wrote about.  Physical proximity is essential.  Essentially, Donne's metaphor has been flipped.  Right?  

I'm working towards getting a "critical mass" of support for this idea, which I think will help me to whittle my thesis down a little bit more.  So, look for some upcoming blog posts on metaphysics and the concept of infinite proximity.  Thanks for all your help so far, guys!    

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

To tell the laity of our love

Thanks to everyone that has been commenting!  All of your great points are really, REALLY helping me to formulate a solid idea of what I want to write about.  Something I'd like to address more comprehensively is Donne's stanza that says, 

"Dull sublunary lovers' love  
    —Whose soul is sense—cannot admit
Of absence, 'cause it doth remove                                     

    The thing which elemented it."

My original thought was that our relationships are "sublunary" like this now, because thanks to social media, absence has been all but eliminated.  But now I realize that that was so, so wrong.  Because absence has been removed from the equation (cell phones, email, skype, etc.) and because social networking has taken off so significantly, none (okay, few) of our relationships are "elemented" by physical closeness anymore.  This study that I referred to in my last post says that people have smaller social circles than they have in the past.  Is this because they have such strong and meaningful relationships that they don't need as many people in their personal networks?  Relationships that are based upon physical proximity and convenience aren't really necessary anymore.  

I've found several other studies that say people are able to form better relationships online because of the sense of anonymity.  They can create their own identity.  Ideally, they'll just be truer to what they perceive their  real-life identity to be.  Because of this, they can trust the person with whom they're forming a relationship more.  They can rely on each other more and share more information, because the internet seems so nonthreatening.  I think that is a very metaphysical idea. 

On my last post, my friend Heather commented and made a wonderful connection.  She said "isn't it interesting that a poet who was known for his somewhat paradoxical metaphors has BECOME a metaphor in the new media debate...Donne expressed the human tendency to make creative comparisons. Now, we, as humans, are capable of LIVING these comparisons as we form strong relationships over a distance. It's a paradox... but we do it, and it works." 

I love this point, and I think this is definitely where I want to end up with my paper.  Because of social media, we are able to embody metaphysical relationship ideals that Donne could only write about.  But, of course, new media also has detrimental effects.  My friend Neal made a comment that maybe we're sacrificing older relationship ideals for new ones-like the couple that's constantly texting.  There's the complaint that we as a society are too "plugged-in" and it's effecting our sense of reality.  So, am I making too bold of an assertion? 


Monday, May 24, 2010

Real love=Virtual love?

"Our problems with social media seem to derive from the fact that we’re inappropriately treating in-person and virtual communication as entirely different things."

So, my friend James brought up a really great point about long distance relationships in a comment on my last post, which was basically that online communication is only different from face-to-face communication because the older generation assumes so.  This article that he shared cites a recent study that found that "new information and communication technologies such as the internet and mobile phone" have not exacerbated social isolation in our society.  In fact, they discovered "the opposite trend amongst internet and mobile phone users; they have larger and more diverse core networks."

I think that we all know that social networking tools make it easier to keep in touch, but many also assume that these tools can never replace older forms of communication.  You know, this isn't necessarily true.  In the past twenty years, we have found excellent alternatives to letter-writing, traveling, blind-dating, rioting (see Audrey's blog)and isolated researching. Of course nothing will ever be able to take the place of real, face-to-face contact, but technology helps.

I also think it's interesting that, like this article says, social networking makes it easier for us to form relationships.  The study found that people as a whole have notably less people in their social circle than they did in the past.  New media is a reaction to this, not its cause.  

Now-how this ties into my thesis.  New media tools are a manifestation of the metaphysical desire to be constantly and profoundly interconnected, as proved by that study.  This doesn't mean that our relationships are less meaningful, though.  Do you think that even though Donne's metaphors have been actualized, people are still capable of romantic feelings that are equally as strong? What evidence is there of this?  


Friday, May 21, 2010

Ambient Awareness

Another thing that I think will be interesting to address with regard to my paper is ambient awareness. A really great article Ben tipped me off to explains this phenomenon really well. You can read it here.  One of the parts that jumped out me to the most says, 

The Japanese sociologist Mizuko Ito first noticed it with mobile phones: lovers who were working in different cities would send text messages back and forth all night — tiny updates like “enjoying a glass of wine now” or “watching TV while lying on the couch.” They were doing it partly because talking for hours on mobile phones isn’t very comfortable (or affordable). But they also discovered that the little Ping-Ponging messages felt even more intimate than a phone call."

To me, this sounds kind of like the metaphysical, lovey-dovey stuff Donne talks about, especially when he says, 

"Our two souls therefore, which are one,
Though I must go, endure not yet
A breach, but an expansion, 
Like gold to aery thinness beat"

I think that the ability lovers have in today's society to be not just emotionally and metaphorically but literally connected to their partner through text messages and other communication tools is an exemplification of Donne's metaphysical ideal of what a long-distance relationship should be.  

"It’s sort of like when you’re sitting with someone and you look over and they smile at you. You’re sitting here reading the paper, and you’re doing your side-by-side thing, and you just sort of let people know you’re aware of them.”  

Shake it up

So, before I really knew what I wanted to write about, I blogged about the topic of relationships and social media on my personal blog.  You can read it here.  I got some really great feedback from my family and friends about the effects of technology on relationships, and what I thought was most interesting was the point they made overall about the tendency they have to be detrimental to relationships.  People compare themselves, say mean and hurtful things, stalk, and practice a whole host of negative behaviors.  So, this is bad.

Then I thought about how this compares to romantic relationships.  I don't think the same issues arise.  Like  the commenter Emily pointed out, social networking can create fidelity issues within marriage.  I think this plays really well into John Donne's poem "A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning", which I'm analyzing for this paper.  He says,

“But we by a love so much refined, 
That ourselves know not what it is,  

Inter-assurèd of the mind,  
Care less, eyes, lips and hands to miss.”

This is essentially a comment on the faithfulness Donne and his wife have, and are assured that the other has.  I think it would be interesting to analyze fidelity in the "Valediction" and in our modern society as a result of social media.  Just a thought. 

For the record, this song is going to be stuck in my head all day now.  Awesome.