Continuing with my textual analysis of John Donne's "A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning", I'm using the poem to further prove that technology has made the metaphysical become physical by helping us to understand the value of reality. The stanzas I'm focusing on today say,
"Dull sublunary lovers' love
—Whose soul is sense—cannot admit
Of absence, 'cause it doth remove
The thing which elemented it.
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."
Donne's point was that relationships that are contingent upon physical closeness-"elemented" by it"-are inferior to relationships that are "so much refined" that they are transcendent of the need for physical proximity. This, of course, is a pretty popular theme in metaphysical poetry. It's also a concept that's widely idealized in our society.
But I'm going to argue that this need to transcend physical closeness in relationships is no longer necessary, or even ideal. I've blogged about this before, and what I concluded is that every relationship is now transcendent of physical constraints, thanks to technology. This doesn't mean that all of our relationships are beautiful, metaphysical love-fests, but it means that we need to redefine what makes our relationships legitimate.
Elder David A. Bednar, an apostle in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, spoke last year in a talk entitled "Things as They Really Are" about the danger of new media in preventing us from separating the virtuality from reality. He says,
"If the adversary cannot entice us to misuse our physical bodies, then one of his most potent tactics is to beguile you and me as embodied spirits to disconnect gradually and physically from things as they really are. In essence, he encourages us to think and act as if we were in our premortal, unembodied state. And, if we let him, he can cunningly employ some aspects of modern technology to accomplish his purposes. Please be careful of becoming so immersed and engrossed in pixels, texting, ear buds, twittering, online social networking, and potentially addictive uses of media and the Internet that you fail to recognize the importance of your physical body and miss the richness of person-to-person communication. Beware of digital displays and data in many forms of computer-mediated interaction that can displace the full range of physical capacity and experience."
I touched on this in my last post when I mentioned the type of couple that's constantly plugged in and self-disclosing, but I want to emphasize that while the self-awareness new media tools offer us can be beneficial to our relationships, the capacity they have to disconnect us from reality in a way that is ultimately very harmful is a great cause of concern. In a comment on the post, my friend Becca made a good point when she said, "I agree with you, that we can get to know ourselves better through little status updates, but I think Donne's point is well taken too. Is it particularly good for the *relationship*? There's a difference between what's good for "me" and what's good for "us"..."
That's definitely true, but the difference that is even more important is between what is detrimental for "me" and what is detrimental for "us". Excessive reliance upon technology, either by the individual or by the couple, diminishes our capacity for person-to-person communication to the extent that our reality cannot extend upon the confines of our computer screen. This extends to our real-life relationships. This is the type of sublunary relationship Donne condemned. Even though technology may be the realization of the metaphysical ideals John Donne prophesied about, too much "transcendence" of physical proximity deadens our spirituality, which is the antithesis of what transcendence is supposed to be about.
So, Mr. Donne had a point. But in today's technology-ridden society, his point has been flipped. The couples with a "refined" love aren't the couples that can exist without any kind of physical closeness, but the ones that recognize the importance of it, of "things as they really are".