Richard Kearney wrote a very thought provoking piece in The New York Times last month on the sense of touch in the virtual world. Dr. Kearney, a philosophy professor at Boston College, teaches a class on eros beginning with Plato on up through the digital age. Talking to students about modern dating practices involving services like OkCupid, SpeedDate, and the like led to these musings:
"We noted the rather obvious paradox: The ostensible immediacy of sexual contact was in fact mediated digitally. And it was also noted that what is often thought of as a ''materialist'' culture was arguably the most ''immaterialist'' culture imaginable -- vicarious, by proxy, and often voyeuristic. Is today's virtual dater and mater something like an updated version of Plato's Gyges, who could see everything at a distance but was touched by nothing? Are we perhaps entering an age of ''excarnation,'' where we obsess about the body in increasingly disembodied ways? For if incarnation is the image become flesh, excarnation is flesh become image. Incarnation invests flesh; excarnation divests it...
For all the fascination with bodies, our current technology is arguably exacerbating our carnal alienation. While offering us enormous freedoms of fantasy and encounter, digital eros may also be removing us further from the flesh.
Pornography, for example, is now an industry worth tens of billions of dollars worldwide. Seen by some as a progressive sign of post-60s sexual liberation, pornography is, paradoxically, a twin of Puritanism. Both display an alienation from flesh -- one replacing it with the virtuous, the other with the virtual. Each is out of touch with the body."
--August 31, "Losing Our Touch," The New York Times