I was recently watching an episode of Black Mirror on Netflix and one of their more recent story lines (without spoilers) was all about catching feelings for someone online. And this after reading a really interesting Metro UK article about Digisexuality and falling in love with people who don’t exist. This all got me thinking about humans and our drive for connection. And how we satisfy that drive in an age of “disconnected connectedness.”
Digisexuals are defines as people who fall in love and/or have relationships with machines or AI/CGI models who never existed. Case in point from the Metro article is the story of Lil Miquela, an Instagram model with over a million followers and post after post of adoring fans professing their attraction and love. The only thing is, Lil Miquela isn’t flesh and blood. In fact, she isn’t actually physically tangible at all. She is totally CGI and exists only as bits of information. But this hasn’t stopped her from becoming a successful model who has participated in ad campaigns for major companies.
So even though this model doesn’t exist, fans are still connected to her and interact with her daily like she is a living, breathing person. And even in this post I keep referring to her as “her” even though inherently she has no actual living biological gender. The power of perception and what we believe to be reality shapes the world around us and in turn how we then interact with the world. And Lil Miquela isn’t alone. There are other virtual models with their own successful careers and legions of fans.
Thinking more broadly, what does this mean in terms of connection and relationships? Yes, Digisexuals prefer to have relationships with machines or CGI representations of humans, but what about someone who craves connection with other living, breathing people in a time when the majority of our connections to others exist solely online? Yes, in the real world in general the people we meet and talk to online are real in the sense that they exist autonomously and have their own lives and families and careers and dreams. But we don’t know any of that. We assume. We extrapolate. We fill in the blanks from our own experiences. We don’t know what they sound like, how they laugh, what makes them cry, what they do when no one is watching.
So in this regard, how are our friends we know only online any different than a CGI model made only of ones and zeros? Where does imagination stop and reality begin? And until now I’ve really only been thinking of Facebook friends or those we know through networking sites or business interactions. Expand the discussion to dating or hookup apps and the question gets even more interesting. We have an idea in our heads about who we’d like to date. We have an idea of who we are and we craft our profiles to portray that ideal self image. But is that online representation truly us? Are the profiles we look at and swipe left or right on really the people they are representing? What is it that we are really connecting with… another person or the idea of another person?
And if we do happen to find someone online we connect with and decide to meet in person, the image we have constructed in our heads and the actual reality of the person will inevitably collide. Or are we content with interacting with the idealized representations of other people we can see, judge, and quickly scroll past on our personal screens.
I know this post isn’t a post so much as it’s a string of questions, but I think that’s my point. I don’t know the answers to any of this. And honestly, do we want to know the answer. I think for me the joy is in the unanswered and the lingering hypotheses. What are we connecting with when we truly connect with another?