MGU 241 | Illusion Of Intimacy

 

How deep are the online connections that value so much? Hosts Jason Wrobel and Whitney Lauritsen exchange their thoughts on the illusion of intimacy in today’s world dominated by interaction on social media. They touch on different quotes and insights from the book Alone Together by Sherry Turkle. They also share fascinating stories about normcoreFurbyTamagotchis, AI, Chatroulette, and online dating. Jason discusses his experience having an Instagram break and what it has done for his mental health.  

Watch the episode here


 

Listen to the podcast here


 

Are We Alone Together? Technology And The Illusion Of Intimacy 

First things first, we have a new podcast. If you don’t usually make it to the end of this show, you probably had no idea. If you’re not a newsletter subscriber or even if you are a newsletter subscriber, it’s possible you did not see this email because let’s be honest, a lot of people subscribe to newsletters and never read them or wait for a long time. 

I am making a concerted effort to let you know about our new private, exclusive podcast called This Hits The Spot. Before you feel overwhelmed about adding another podcast list or perhaps you’re the complete opposite and you’re excited about it, let me give you a quick overview. It’s replacing what we used to do at the end of the episode. If you’re someone who doesn’t usually make it towards the end of our episodes, you may not even know that we do this. For a long time, off and on, not incredibly consistently, we would talk about our favorite products and services at the end of the episodes. We enjoyed doing that and we thought, “Let’s cut that out and paste that into another private podcast exclusively for people who subscribe to our newsletters and/or are supporting us on Patreon.” 

Take inventory of the quality of the relationships in your life. Click To Tweet

We wanted to give some extra perks and some incentives for our newsletter subscribers to thank them because we know inboxes can get cluttered. We especially want to thank our patrons for supporting the shows financially. Plus, we wanted to play around with a brand-new tool so we created This Hits The Spot, which is a shorter podcast. It’s about twenty minutes in length. We tried to keep it to 5 to 10 minutes long. I was going to say we’re not capable of that, Jason but I know we’re capable. It’s just we choose not to. Like this show could be a lot shorter but we choose to keep it whatever length we want. 

The other show is significantly shorter than this show. We rave about products and services. We release a new episode every week. We mention seven products per episode so that might be our average but there are no rules like there are no rules on this show, This Hits The Spot. The only rule if there is one is for that show to be more uplifting and more positive. We wanted it to be the antithesis of this show and that if you ever feel a little low energy after reading because we get into some deep things here, a little sad perhaps. Maybe similar to how you feel if you read the Bo Burnham special that we talked about in a previous episode. 

We want you to feel uplifted and we want you to know that there are a ton of amazing foods, beverages, supplements, online programs, books, other podcasts and all sorts of amazing things out there that bring each of us joy. It’s been our passion for many years outside of the podcast for us to talk about products and services. Now that Jason is off Instagram, at least for the foreseeable future, he’s going to need an outlet to talk about products he loves. That’s a good place to start beyond the show. 

For anyone who’s curious about how you get access to This Hits The Spot, if you’re already a newsletter subscriber, we’ve been sending out little tidbits about it each week. If you are on Patreon, it’s obvious because it’s right there front and center for you. You just sign up as a patron. If you don’t want to financially support us, that’s fine. That’s your prerogative. You can sign up for free using our newsletter and once you do, there’s a way to opt-in to the podcast or you can go to Wellevatr.com/this-hit-the-spot. 

If you’re having trouble, I have a feeling if you do a search for This Hits The Spot, you should find it. It is not fully ranked in Google yet but if you have any trouble, you can DM us on Instagram or you can send us an email. If you go to our website, Wellevatr.com, it’s on there. If you go to the podcast section, it’s on there. With that complete, Jason, I’m curious how have you been feeling since you deactivated your personal Instagram account? It’d be great for you to share your decision to pause the Jason Wrobel Instagram account and how you’ve been feeling since you did that. How long do you anticipate not using that personal account? 

I reactivated the podcast clips but I’m not actively engaging with it. I will probably deactivate it again, to be honest with you because what I’ve noticed since I stopped using my personal account is I feel a lot more mental space, Whitney. I feel a sense of not feeling bound to keep up with other people’s lives that I don’t know. I don’t feel bound by the incessant, almost unconscious desire to pick up my phone constantly. It’s made an interesting difference. I posted clips for a podcast on my personal account. I don’t know that I see the long-term value in being on Instagram anymore, not for Wellevatr but for me personally. 

Here’s one of the reasons. We’ve talked about this in a previous episode. We were talking about the anthropological and sociological research that shows that our human ancestors in small agrarian tribal societies didn’t know more than 100 to 200 humans their entire life. The theory is that our neurophysiology has not adapted beyond that. In terms of close people that we know by name, our brains are still wired to only be able to successfully maintain about 100 to 200 human relationships. 

What I started realizing was that all of the DMs on every platform, people commenting and people sending messages is neurologically overwhelming to me to maintain that many connections with that many human beings. It fries my nervous system. The other part of it too is that I’m being mindful especially because you and I are going to one of the first public events that we’ve been to. You and I have not been to a public event together since the beginning of the pandemic as far as I recall. We’re going to a debut in LA for a waste-free store. 

All that being said, I’m taking inventory of the quality of the relationships in my life and here’s what I mean by that. If I shut down or deactivate all of my social media, the people that I’m close to can call me and they can text me because they have my phone number. They can email me because they have my direct email, which is also public on the internet or they physically know where I live. They have my address. If you’re a human being that falls out of that category, doesn’t have my phone number, doesn’t know how to text me, email or physically come visit me, at the risk of sounding a bit blunt, you’re probably not that important to me. 

That sounds blunt and I know when I say that but when I say that, it doesn’t mean that I don’t value my business relationships. It doesn’t mean I don’t value the people that we work within those kinds of contexts. I’m talking about an interpersonal deep type of connection. If the only way that we’re connected is on Instagram, it’s not that deep of a relationship. It’s me taking inventory of how social media sometimes skews the importance like, “I got to respond to all these DMs. I’ve got to get all these posts.” 

MGU 241 | Illusion Of Intimacy

Illusion Of Intimacy: Our brains are still wired to successfully maintain about 100-200 human relationships. It’s neurologically overwhelming to maintain that many connections with that many human beings.

 

This might fly in the face of advice from some social media people. I don’t feel the need to respond to comments. I don’t even want to respond to comments anymore because it’s exhausting. That’s thousands of human connections I don’t have the capacity for neurologically. The long answer is I briefly went back on the post clips. I’m not engaging with the DMs. I might deactivate DMs but I felt better, more spacious and less anxiety, Whitney. To be honest, I don’t miss Instagram at all. There’s not a fiber of my being that misses it. 

I’m not surprised. I have been reflecting on it myself. I feel like Instagram tends to feel like it’s more of a chore than a joy. There are elements of connection that I’ve appreciated. We get most of the feedback on this show via Instagram. For that reason, I feel like the Wellevatr Instagram account is nice. One thing with you, Jason that you sounded frustrated by was other people’s posts on Instagram. Certainly, you can solve that by unfollowing or not looking at the feed. 

When I started my Whit Lauritsen Instagram account, which I’m aiming to be my main account if I ever make it that far. If I spend enough time on Instagram for that to even be worth it, that’s usually where I direct people to unless, for some reason, I want to impress them with my larger following on Eco-Vegan Gal, which is so silly. Unfortunately, that’s the way a lot of people’s brains work. With Whit Lauritsen only having 200-plus people on it, it’s not as impressive as approximately 17,000 on my Eco-Vegan Gal account. That doesn’t deeply matter to me. My point being that I’m mindful of who I follow on either account especially the Whit Lauritsen account because I don’t want to fall into the comparison trap. 

I truly want to see content that brings me joy from people that I know or people that I admire like Celeste Headlee who is on our show. I love seeing her because she posts pictures of her dogs and “normal things”. I love her spirit. I love Elizabeth Gilbert’s spirit. I’ve never even communicated with her. That’s a little bit different than just following friends. There are friends that I don’t follow anymore. I’ve unfollowed them. Sometimes, if I feel uncomfortable unfollowing them, I’ve muted them so I don’t see their content because it can feel awkward to unfollow someone. Sometimes, people notice, which we’ve talked about before on the show. It’s so interesting when people notice that you’ve unfollowed them because I don’t even know how to see if somebody unfollowed me. 

The only person, Jason, that I’ve checked to see if she’s still following me is Marianne Williamson. That’s the only person I have consciously checked. It makes me feel good that Marianne Williamson follows me and I don’t even know if she chose or someone on her staff chose to follow me but I took that as a lot of pride. It was cool because it inspired me to post content that felt more in alignment with my spirit. I wanted her to continue following me. I admire and appreciate Marianne’s work. I didn’t know if I would ever show up in her feed but if I do, I’d rather it come across as rich, meaningful content versus superficial egotistic trying to get validation type of content. 

The reason that I bring this up is that I have been reading a book that is a fascinating perspective on technology. I pulled up some summaries because I haven’t finished it yet and I recognized that I haven’t made it to the part that is going to most excite me. This may be a two-part episode. Certainly, we can talk about the first section of the book, which is perspectives on technology but the second part apparently gets into social media. I feel a little disappointed that I haven’t made it that far yet. I almost gave up on reading the book because I was starting to feel like it wasn’t super valuable to me but now that I know that there’s more and it gets into different subject matters, I’m excited. 

This book is called Alone Together by Sherry Turkle. This was recommended by at least two people. I don’t remember where I initially heard about it. The main focus of the book is how humans interact with technology and why they expect more from it. Sherry was a psychologist who was studying artificial intelligence in the 1970s and has done a number of studies over the years as it evolved. Much of the book has focused on things like toys that kids have played with like Tamagotchis, Furbies, these robotic dogs that I’m not familiar with called aibo. I distinctly remember Tamagotchi. I don’t recall if I had my own but I think I did. I also don’t think I ever had Furby of my own but my sister did. My sister, being a few years younger than me, got to experience some of the “younger spectrum” of the Millennial generation. 

Be mindful of who you follow. You don’t want to fall into the comparison trap. See content that brings you joy from people you admire. Click To Tweet

It’s fascinating to read how she was studying the way kids interacted and the responsibility that they had with this form of technology. I have a bunch of quotes that I want to share. The development, in some ways, felt like that technology was designed to distract us and entertain us like a lot of toys are. I don’t know if she made this point or will make this point in the book. I wonder if that technology was designed to get us used to AI like, “Let’s subtly bring it into our lives so that by the time AI becomes big, it’s not a big deal and it’s not as shocking to us because we’ve been playing with it since we were kids.” 

The Furby section was especially fascinating, which got a little redundant for me. It’s definitely a scientific book. I love research but at a certain point, my eyes started to glaze over. There’s so much detail about Furbies, like a whole either chapter or a huge chunk of a chapter dedicated to them. It’s fascinating at times though how kids were responding to them and treating them almost as if they were real. One of the big points that Sherry makes is, how do we even define what’s real? I thought that was an interesting question. 

Before we get into some of this, I don’t want to get too far ahead of myself. I want to share some of these quotes and reflect upon them. Hopefully, they’re not too out of context for me to remember what the context is. Towards the beginning of the book, she said, “These days, insecure in our relationships and anxious about intimacy, we look to technology for ways to be in relationships and protect ourselves from them at the same time through technology.” I thought it was such a fascinating statement and that summarizes a huge interpretation that I have of the title, Alone Together. 

In the introduction of the book, she gets into how technology serves us and doesn’t serve us in so many ways. How we objectify and discard people through technology. She was specifically talking about Chatroulette. It’s called Omegle now. I don’t know if it’s the same company or maybe a separate company with the same idea where you can go and meet random strangers. Jason’s probably laughing and thinking about Steve. 

Our friend, Steve Kardynal. 

Is he a friend? Come on. 

I did that to be joking. 

Years ago, Steve and I were in a program together and I had many interactions with him but I wouldn’t call him a friend. Not to be offensive but simply, he’s truly an acquaintance. I would like to look him up. I wonder how he’s doing because he rode the wave of fame or notoriety or whatever through several videos he did on Chatroulette where he was singing a song. 

Call Me Maybe. 

“Hey, I just met you. Here’s my number.” Is that how it went? 

Yeah. That was Carly Rae Jepsen. 

It’s a fun video and it was all done through Chatroulette. This point of people being objectified and quickly discarded. Chatroulette is exactly what it was like. Through some old hard drives, I found screen recordings I made of myself using Chatroulette. I don’t even know why I made these. I was probably going to integrate them into a video. I don’t know if I ever did but I have them from probably 2010 or maybe a little earlier. I don’t remember exactly when it started. It’s interesting even watching them back how you would go on there and you would wait for someone to entertain you in some way. 

If anyone’s ever used them, you would just sit there and be like, “What’s this person got to say or do?” I don’t know in the beginning if there was audio. I remember a lot of typing in the chat. Now, it’s mostly audio verbalizations. It was fascinating how you would be on the edge and I’m sure you still are if you use Omegle or whatever else is out there, where you don’t know what you’re going to experience and it can make it dangerous. There was a lot of pornography there of people flashing each other. That was the known risk that you would take that you might see someone’s penis or someone doing some lewd act. 

They’re trying to get a literal rise out of you in some cases or somebody is turned on by strangers seeing them. There’s nothing wrong with that. There’s no shame. What could be wrong is if kids are seeing it and the inappropriate dynamics that could come out of that or traumatic responses. I’m not shaming someone’s sexual desires but there’s a time and a place for each of them. Chatroulette is so fascinating for that reason but it’s not the only platform. Certainly, online dating feels that way. You can quickly discard someone. You can swipe past them. You can have a conversation and completely ghost them. 

The number of times that happened to me and I’m sure you’ve talked about this in some of our relationship episodes. Jason, I imagine for guys, too, that girls never respond. You put all this effort into a cool pickup line in a conversation and you think you’re getting somewhere and then someone just ghosts you or you even go on a date with somebody. We live in a time where you can pick your next person on your phone as soon as you leave a date. If you don’t like that date, you’re like, “Done. Next. Move on.” You are discarding somebody and on to the next. To me, that’s a frightening element of technology. 

I want to go back to one thing you said about Chatroulette, which was this unspoken agreement of, “I need to be entertained by this person.” That part of the reason that I am backing away from my personal social media is what feels like an unspoken pressure to either be profound all of the time. I’m wondering if you agree with this, Whitney, “I can’t post this picture. I need to spend 30 minutes writing this extremely deep, profound, reflective caption that somehow exudes the deeper meaning and significance of the photo or the video. It’s not just posting. I need to craft some compelling prose that’s going to move someone emotionally.” It’s like, “Is that even authentic?” 

You talked about the word real and it’s like, “What does that even mean anymore? What does authentic even mean anymore?” A lot of these words are difficult to even separate these conversations because it goes back to a question of intent. Why are you posting what you’re posting? Are you posting it to get attention? Are you posting it to seem profound, intelligent and successful to people? Are you doing it to get a reaction? No matter what, it’s important to get clear as individuals why we’re posting what we’re posting. 

In that, I feel there’s a constant pressure, Whitney, to be profound and write something meaningful that’s going to move someone and going to entertain someone. Years ago, this was maybe 2014 or 2015, my former assistant and dear friend I’ve known for many years, her name is Elle Marquis. She has a great vintage shop we’ve talked about here in LA, Marquis Moon. She was assisting me for years on my cookbook and my YouTube channel. She’s an amazing chef. She had a friend who was posting something called normcore. I was like, “What is normcore?” She said, “These artists who are posting things that are in direct response to this constant pressure to be profound all the time.” I’m like, “What kinds of things do they post?” She’s like, “Like vacuuming their carpet, cleaning their kitchen or scooping shit out of the litter box.” 

MGU 241 | Illusion Of Intimacy

Illusion Of Intimacy: If you shut down or deactivate all social media, the people that you’re really close with can call, text, email, or physically come where you live.

 

Normcore is like, “This is my daily life.” There’s no pretense. There’s no Rumi quote under the video. There’s not some Sufi wisdom. It’s just like, “Here I am vacuuming my carpet.” “Here I am cleaning my car.” “Here I am scooping cat poop.” I thought that was interesting. I don’t know whatever happened in #Normcore. I haven’t looked at that hashtag in years but that was the first time I remember a group of creators posting things that seemed to be in defiance of the constant pressure to be profound and significant. It’s like, “Here I am vacuuming.” That’s it. No caption and no explanation. A vacuum and a carpet. I thought that was fascinating. 

Maybe I’ll do some new version of normcore where it’s the opposite of profound like, “Here I am shaving the inside of my nose because I have a lot.” Another thing about aging, I’ve noticed that I have hair in my ears, Whitney. I looked in the mirror and I was like, “I have hair growing out of my ears now. Interesting.” I remember as a kid, my grandpa had hair in his ears and I was like, “That’s interesting.” Now, I’m like, “It’s going to happen to me now.” Maybe I’ll post videos of me clipping my ear hair and like, “Fuck you.” No context. 

That’ll be timely because I am going to be reading a book next about ageism. I’m sure I will have a lot to say about that. Some more quotes from the book to discuss. It’s almost like we’re having a little book club discussion here, even though you haven’t read the book, Jason. In the beginning, there was something I highlighted that’s interesting re-reading it because it doesn’t seem as profound to me at this moment but maybe it is. The chapter starts off by saying, “Technology proposes itself as the architect of our intimacies. It is seductive when what it offers meets our human vulnerabilities. Digital connections and the sociable robot may offer the illusion of companionship without the demands of friendship. Our networks’ life allows us to hide from each other, even as we are tethered to each other.” 

That’s interesting because connection without real intimacy is what this is about. That’s how I interpret that statement. It’s offering us the connection that we so desperately want but it is a connection without real emotional depth and without any stakes. This is a sweeping generalization. To your point about online dating, online friendships, for the most part, Whitney, if I think about the acquaintanceships that I have that are only through social media. They don’t have my phone number, my email and don’t know where I live. It’s the illusion of intimacy. I don’t have that deep or profound or intimate of a connection to the people I only know online. 

I want to clarify this with my earlier statement. It doesn’t mean I don’t value those connections. I do but the level of value in my life with my relationships is based on intimacy. When I say intimacy, I mean how deep are we sharing? How much of ourselves are we showing each other? Are we there to support one another not only in the times of triumph but the times of struggle and suffering? Intimacy is such a layered, nuanced type of thing if you think about it. How do we engender feelings of intimacy with another person? 

That might be specific to each person. What might make you feel like you have an intimate connection, Whitney, may be different from me because of my particular emotional or physical needs. The point here is that what she’s saying in this book is we have the illusion of connection. “I have 35,000 people following me.” How many of those people do you ever talked to or ever have any meaningful, deep real resonant communication with? Would they come to your birthday party? Would they come to your wedding? Would they message you when you’re having a crisis in your life? This to me is the separation between connection and intimacy being two different things. 

That leads to another statement in the introduction of this book. “People are lonely. The network is seductive but if we are always on, we may deny ourselves the rewards of solitude.” It also ties back into your desire to deactivate your Instagram, Jason. I think about this a lot because in some previous episodes when I have structured my day to not use social networks especially TikTok, I find it a fascinating experience. Time slows down. I experienced boredom that I haven’t experienced in a long time. I start to think differently, act differently and make different choices. 

The whole experience is different when I allow myself to be off in terms of those networks but they are seductive. Because of loneliness, a lot of people use that. Although as I’ve said in our loneliness episode, I don’t consciously experience a lot of loneliness. That’s not what draws me to technology as far as I’m aware. I’m drawn out of curiosity and for coping. Sometimes, I want mental stimulation and excitement. It’s a bit like a drug. It’s fascinating when I am aware of that and I still choose to use it. I’m in this conscious state of examining how social media is making me feel. 

I don’t find solitude that stimulating but maybe it’s not meant to be stimulating. Maybe that’s the point. When we’re always on, we’re denying ourselves. Being on is about being stimulated and being off is about being unstimulated but that’s okay. We’ve certainly become addicted to stimulation. Going back to my point that she digs into in the first section of the book, as kids, what does that do to our brains to be using things like Tamagotchis and Furbies? Do you remember, Jason, that there was Teddy Ruxpin after your time? Did that come out when you were little? 

Yeah. Teddy Ruxpin was my era. Tamagotchis and Furbies were past my youth. That was more like my younger cousins and the nieces and nephews of the young women I was dating at the time. That was mid to late-‘90s. I was already a teenager or early twenties by the time that stuff came out. I was definitely in the era of Cabbage Patch and Teddy Ruxpin in the ‘80s or early ‘90s. This freaked me out. I remember classmates of mine, young women getting the toy babies that would burp, vomit and you had to change their diapers. I was like, “Wow.” I remember back then thinking, “This is some insidious programming.” It’s like, “You’re a young woman so we’re going to condition you to be a mother because that’s how you actualize your womanhood in the world. Here’s a baby that burps, farts and shits.” 

Technology offers us a connection that we desperately want but one without real emotional depth. Click To Tweet

To me, a lot of toys reinforce social stereotypes if you think about it. Ken wears blue and Barbie wears pink. We’ve talked about this with Dr. Melissa MacDonald. If anyone wants to read that episode, it’s a fantastic episode about gender pronouns and non-binary living in the world. She talked a lot about this thing, Whitney, where there’s this deep conditioning as children of, “If you’re a boy, you play with these toys, wear this color and wear these clothes. If you’re a girl, you wear these colors and play with these toys.” On a level, those babies that burp, fart, poop and piss and you got to take care of it like an actual baby is a conditioning tool. 

That might come up in this book, too, about those babies but I’m not 100% sure because I haven’t made it that far. It’s fascinating how as a kid, they were incredibly exciting and stimulating. I don’t remember thinking if it was a super gender-specific toy but I guess it was. I don’t know if boys would play with it but maybe boys did want to. First of all because a boy wants to play with a toy, it’s not about gender per se. It could just be a fascination with animals and babies like, “What do these things do? I know I can’t do this to a real-life baby so I get to experience it. I’m fascinated by life ironically.”  

That leads me to another point, which is, what does it mean to be real? She shares this example about when Animal Kingdom opened in Orlando, it was populated with “real biological animals”. The visitors complained that they were not as realistic as the animatronics. The biologically living animals were not as realistic because they kept them to themselves and they didn’t display archetypal behavior. The things that people have been conditioned to believe about animals probably through movies were not exhibited in the living creatures. People started to complain and they had to replace them with animatronics to please the visitors. 

It’s completely fucking with your head in terms of what you perceive to be real but part of her point is that maybe our definition of real is closer in alignment with technology than it is with biological creatures. When you tie that into relationships, do people perceive real intimacy to be based on technology? I started to think about movies like Her with Joaquin Phoenix. One of her big points is in the future, it’s likely that we will have relationships with AI, simply because it doesn’t come with all of the inconveniences of a human being. 

Where’s the risk? One of the things that make relationships richer is that there’s something on the line. When you have a difficult conversation, for instance, where you feel you need to tell another person how you feel or you need to set a boundary or you need to break someone’s heart or you need to propose to someone or tell someone you’re dying. Not to be morose about all of it but if you think about the pantheon of the human experience, Whitney, to me, one of the layers that makes human connections so rich is that there are elements of relationships that are scary. There are elements of a relationship that require you to put it on the line and commit to things. 

If we have disembodied AI relationships with holograms or cyborgs or God knows what’s going to appear by the end of our lives, how rich are those relationships emotionally? Let’s say we get to the point by the end of our lives where you can have an AI robot living with you who cooks, cleans, have sex with and watch TV with. It never has any opinions and it never opposes you on anything. Maybe you order it to program to be subservient to you and just say yes to anything you want at all times. Some people might listen to that and go, “That sounds amazing. I’d have a companion who looks human, feels human, isn’t human but does anything I want all the time.” It’s like, “You want to go on a road trip? Great. You want to have sex? Great. Do you want to cook? Awesome.” 

This raises an interesting question about if a being has consciousness but it is not a consciousness that we associate with human consciousness. We have had this ongoing debate for decades about animal rights and what rights our animals do, even though we can see they are conscious beings that have the ability to feel pleasure and pain and have complex social relationships. We still struggle in most modern societies to even think about granting animal’s rights, even though we know they’re conscious. 

Let’s say we do get to this point. This is a bit of a tangent. However, if we did get to a point, Whitney, where we had humanoid cyborg companions running on AI to do our bidding, A.) There’s no real richness to that relationship because there’s no risk. There’s no contrast if something’s just doing what you want all the time. That’s essentially like an indentured servant. B.) What rights do we grant a conscious being like that, that looks human, feels human, acts human but isn’t human? 

I feel like this got brought up in the Blade Runner series with the replicants. We think about clones. I read an article that a team of scientists finally sequenced the entire human genome. We had portions of the genome sequenced but now we have the full human genome sequenced. Essentially meaning, that opens the door to human cloning. The ethics involved in that, I don’t know if it’ll happen but you can be sure it’s opened the door to cloning. 

Let’s say we have a clone whether or not it’s AI. Let’s say we clone ourselves. What are the rights, privileges and dynamics of a relationship with a human clone? It’s going to get weird. By the end of our lives, Whitney, it’s going to get difficult and weird with these conversations. In conclusion, if we want to be in a relationship with a thing where it’s just doing what we want and agreeing with us all the time, I feel like that would be A) Dreadfully boring and B) That doesn’t feel like there’s much richness in that kind of relationship to me at all. There are no dynamics there. 

That leads me to another section of the book about authenticity. Sherry says, “Authenticity for me follows from the ability to put oneself in the place of another to relate to the other because of a shared store of human experiences. We are born, have families and know loss and the reality of death. What if relating to robots makes us feel good or better, simply because we feel more in control? Feeling good is no Golden Rule. One can feel good for bad reasons. What if a robot companion makes us feel good but leaves us somehow diminished?” 

She finishes one point with a phrase that I thought was very timely, although this book may have come out a few years ago. She says, “Inauthentic as a new aesthetic.” The word aesthetic gets thrown around a lot especially with Gen Z to describe things. It’s like, “This is aesthetic. This is my aesthetic.” Maybe authenticity seems to be aesthetic. The full phrase here is, “We look at mass media and worry about our culture of being intellectually dumbed down.” She references a book called Love & Sex, which seems to celebrate an emotional dumbing down, a willful turning away from the complexities of human partnerships. 

When you were talking about online dating, I talked about this in one of our early relationship episodes. One of the reasons I stopped online dating for good is I felt like it was a commodification experience. It felt like it was shopping for a human online. It was like shopping for a person. “I don’t want that one. The color is not right.” I don’t want that one. I don’t like your clothes.” “I don’t like the size.” “The price seems like a hype.” The inner conversation was almost like I was shopping for a human. I’m evaluating them like I would evaluate a car. That’s what I meant when I was talking about those parameters. It’s like, “I started to feel like I don’t know who this person is.” 

If we are curating our online presence or our dating profiles, we’re making perfectly poised profiles on Instagram, TikTok and all of these things. We’re constantly curating our online image, the question is why? To me, it comes down to, what do humans wired to want? We’re wired to want acceptance, validation and approval. When it gets out of control is when we become addicted to those things. We become addicted to approval, attention and significance. All of this technology is just taking advantage of what’s already embedded in the human psyche and what is our drive to connect and feel worthy in the world. If we realize, “This technology is being designed to take advantage of what’s going on.”  

Our friend, Adam Yasmin, who I hung out with one time and another former great guest has been getting bombarded with hair loss ads. He took and did a whole montage on his social media where he would have the ad in the background and he’d be making commentary in the foreground about it. Our friend, Adam, has been completely bald for several years. He shaves his head and everything. He’s like, “I’m not worried about my hair loss because I don’t have any anymore. Stop marketing me these products because I’m not trying to regrow it.” 

He sent a message to the company and he called them out on social media. They keep bombarding him with these ads and he’s like, “I’m not trying to regrow my hair. It’s gone. I’m not your customer.” I don’t know if part of it is more the annoyance that he’s being targeted by ads that are not appropriate to him or the fact that these AI advertisements are looking for bald people. There are algorithms that are like, “Looking at profile pictures of bald men. We’re going to put out an ad campaign to anyone that the algorithm, the AI detects as a bald man online whether or not they want it.” 

MGU 241 | Illusion Of Intimacy

Illusion Of Intimacy: If the only way that you’re connected is on Instagram, it’s not that deep of a relationship. Social media sometimes skews the importance of relationships.

 

The AI must be great because as you were saying that, a bald man walked by outside the window. I’m like, “What is going on?” 

Whitney, what if we’re in a simulation? That’s a whole another topic we can dig into. There’s the simulation theory, which Elon Musk has talked about. That is a possibility that we are just living in a global algorithm designed by some higher mind. Who the hell knows? 

Going back to that loneliness part of that, there’s another quote that I highlighted here about how people feel drawn to robotic relationships because we’re looking for no-risk relationships that stave off loneliness. In a way though, a lot of people use online dating sites as entertainment, get validation and feel less lonely. They might use them for sexual pleasure or perhaps to find a companion. That was part of my issue with it, which I don’t know if I had fully fleshed that out when we were talking about this in the past is that you go on there and you don’t know what somebody else’s motivation is for using that. You go on there may be to find a companion but you are exposed to people that have different motivations. 

I remember trying to be so clear about why I was on and what I wanted and still, men would hit me up. I’d think, “They must have read my profile.” Through some of their opening lines, it seems like they did. All, if not most, of the men that I met on online dating that I went on a date with turned out that they didn’t want the same thing as me. I’m like, “I said clearly this is what I wanted.” That to me is so messed up. It feels like a big manipulation. It feels like crossing somebody’s boundaries. You don’t have enough respect for other human beings to read what they want and take in what they want. Instead, a lot of men would look at my photos and be like, “She’s a desirable person. I want her attention,” or, “I want to have sex with her.” “I want to go out on a date and feel good about myself for that time.” 

These are assumptions but that’s what it felt like and that’s such an icky thing. Certainly, there are dating apps where you’re less likely to have that experience. I’ve been on two dating apps. One not long ago and one many years ago in the early days of dating apps as you’ve talked about too, Jason, with your dating app fiascos. They bring back some fond memories and some interesting experiences. I don’t regret being on them, Jason but looking back on them with the context of this conversation, it’s frustrating. Especially in a city like Los Angeles where energetically, there is such this air of superficial relationships, which is a big generalization because certainly, it’s not true of everyone here. You and I both live here and we’re seeking more than that. 

That also doesn’t mean that you and I haven’t used things like dating apps to feel better about ourselves. If I examine my behavior, maybe I wasn’t even conscious of it. Maybe I was going on dating apps to stave off loneliness. What if I wasn’t aware that I was on there just to feel validated? I was also there to speed up the process consciously. I was like, “I want to meet someone, date someone and fall in love. This seems like the quickest route to it.” In a way, that’s taking a shortcut. When you take a shortcut, there are a lot of drawbacks to it versus an experience like meeting a future partner at a farmers’ market. 

People feel drawn to robotic relationships, because we're looking for no risk relationships that stave off loneliness. Click To Tweet

I don’t know that it’s endemic to Los Angeles but it’s magnified here. It’s magnified in bigger cities in my experience but it’s not just a city thing. It’s definitely part of Western culture. It’s the upgrade mentality, constantly wanting to upgrade. It’s like, “I had a Honda. Cool. Now I finally have enough money and success. I’m going to buy BMW. BMW is not enough, now I got to get a Tesla. Tesla’s not enough. Now I have the money, I got to get McLaren. McLaren is not enough, now I got to get a Bugatti.” 

I’m not trying to compare people to inanimate objects but the mentality is the same. Why should I commit to this thing when I know that there’s a bunch of other options out there? I’m signaling LA because it’s endemic here, this climbing of the social ladder and increasing your status in the social hierarchy and part of that is absolutely through dating. It skews the intent of why certain people go into relationships because they’re not being upfront about it. 

If a lot of humans were to look at this, it’s some version of upgrade culture. “By this age, I’m supposed to be driving this car and I want to be with this person, ‘Why though?’” Because we’ve associated that the people we surround ourselves with, the things we have, the ZIP code we live in and the house we’re in are somehow a reflection of our inner character. That’s been a huge lie that the capitalist system has implanted in all of us. That our things and the people we have to define who we are. 

“You’re the sum of the five people you spend the most time with.” Go fuck yourself and I’ll tell you why. Because yes, certain “successful financially” well-off people that we have met surround themselves with other influencers, entrepreneurs and millionaires. That’s fine. Some people have friends they’ve known for 40 or 50 years and they’re like, “I love this person because I love them.” “I don’t love them because they’re also a millionaire, an influencer and a mover and shaker in my industry.” They love them because they love them. 

I’m not saying it’s false but these tropes, quotes and ideas of like, “In order to be successful and if you want to be a millionaire entrepreneur, you better start hanging out with other millionaire entrepreneurs.” I don’t know that that’s true. I understand what those statements mean. If people are focused on wealth and abundance scaling, you will learn things and you will connect and maybe give value back to those kinds of people. Thinking we have to have that structure, what it starts to do, in my opinion only, is it creates transactional manipulative relationships of, “I need to seek this person out because they’re going to help me be successful.” “What kind of value can I give this person in exchange for their wisdom?” 

It’s not an actual relationship anymore. Now it’s a transaction but we’ve been parroted this in the online world of, “That’s what we need to do to be a success.” To me, that’s a reductive way of approaching relationships because it doesn’t necessarily mean that there’s a deeper connection. It’s a transactional thing. “What can I give this person in exchange for their intimacy and their wisdom so I can be as successful as they are?” I don’t want to have relationships like that. Maybe I’m shooting myself in the foot. Maybe I won’t be as successful. To me, that feels like a reductive approach where I’m turning relationships into a tit-for-tat transaction. I personally do not want to manifest relationships like that. 

You touched upon something I meant to say, too, about the culture that I feel in cities like Los Angeles, in which transactional relationships are the status quo. It’s like, “We use each other. That’s how things are done.” “You’re not okay with it? That’s how things are done so just get over it yourself.” I felt that way about online dating. It was like, “I want to hook up with you.” This whole hookup culture we have and then it gets embedded in our heads. 

MGU 241 | Illusion Of Intimacy

Illusion Of Intimacy: It goes back to a question of intent. Why are you posting what you’re posting?

 

As a woman who’s interested romantically in men, the idea of like, “Men are dogs. All men want is sex. Men take advantage of you.” It’s beaten into you where you don’t trust men anymore. I certainly struggled to trust men. I’ve also dated men who have that same mentality about themselves and believe that it’s acceptable to treat someone like a transaction and it’s acceptable to have a hookup culture. 

It’s been a big battle for me as someone who deep down is drawn to monogamy or at least a sense of deep connection with somebody. Monogamy doesn’t necessarily have to be part of that equation. Someone that yearns to have a deep relationship with everybody in my life. The heartbreak I felt and sometimes, even on subtle levels. I don’t know if I’ve ever shared this on the show but Jason, you certainly know there was one person I met through online dating and I was into him at the time, enough to continue pursuing the relationship. 

One time, we are on a date and I saw the notification from the dating app come up on his phone. It was like one of those classic cinematic moments where he asked me to take a picture of him. As I picked up his phone and take a picture of him, I saw the notification come up. We were on a date. I felt sad at that moment. It ruined the relationship. I could never trust him again. At the time, we’re new to dating. We only dated for a few months. At the time, I didn’t have the confidence to bring it up to him. I internalized it. I didn’t feel comfortable asking him about it. Due to this culture we’re discussing, Jason, I also felt, “Is it inappropriate or out of line?” Technically, it wasn’t. 

Because of the way that I have perceived dating culture, I thought, “I don’t want to be that girl that asks him if he’s seeing other people.” I wasn’t ready at that point. At that point, we had only been dating for a few weeks. I was like, “It’s too early.” I don’t want to be that girl that wants to be exclusive yet. That in itself, that mentality that I’ve internalized as a woman of walking on eggshells around men, which is towards the beginning of many relationships. It’s like, “I’m going to be the cool girl.” I’m going to be the girl that’s like, “I don’t care. Let’s not talk about it. Let’s not set these boundaries.” I became that way or allowed myself to act in that way because that’s what I was perceiving. That’s how I was interpreting dating culture. 

You see this on platforms like TikTok, Jason, these messages that get put out in the way that men will make fun of women for being clingy and things like, “You don’t want to be a guy who’s whipped by his girl.” There’s a lot of these messages that come up through social media, messages that come up through TV shows and movies about critical comments, little digs at women or digs at men for their behavior and relationships. It becomes cringy and you don’t want to be that person. You don’t want to show up in that way. 

Many people, not all, will internalize these behaviors about, “If I want to be the sexy, cool woman then I better not do X, Y, Z, at least not in the beginning stages of relationships. I don’t want to scare them away.” “If I asked for too much in the beginning then that’s going to scare away somebody.” Saying it out loud is silly because if asking for something that I need scares someone away then he’s probably not a good match. It’s still scary. It’s still vulnerable. At that time, I felt incredibly vulnerable. That dating dynamic that we had, I didn’t feel or have the courage to speak up for myself. I let it eat me away. 

Eventually, we stopped dating because I couldn’t overcome that trauma that I experienced recognizing that he was still entertaining the idea of other women. To your point, Jason, who knows what he was doing. I never asked him. In my head, I’m like, “He could be going out on other dates. He could be sitting on the app swiping through.” What does that mean to me? I’m not good enough to be the only girl that he’s dating. He has to continue looking for other prospects, which made me feel gross. Maybe that was it too. That internalization of not being good enough for him caused me to feel weak that I didn’t have that confidence to speak up for it because I took it upon myself when truly it was more about him than it was about me. 

You didn’t necessarily have a container of exclusivity or monogamy around that relationship. Was it also that you didn’t feel special? Was that part of it? 

A huge lie that the capitalist system has implanted in all of us is that our things and the people we have define who we are. Click To Tweet

For me, in general, that’s a desire to feel special. For Millennials, it’s a quality that many of us have. The desire to feel important, seen and heard. I’m not competitive in that way, Jason. The other element is I like to feel special and important in a relationship but I’m also not somebody that wants to ask, “Am I special?” I don’t want it to feel forced. I want it to be organic. Like I organically “earned” the specialness title or someone perceives me that way. That’s what it is. I’m sure that was part of it and it sucks. If that’s one of your core wounds of not feeling good enough as it is for me, that’s a painful thing. Whereas some woman, I’m sure, would see that and be like, “Whatever.” Is it true whatever or is it that the culture has conditioned somebody to feel whatever? 

That’s why in cities like Los Angeles and New York City, you’re often encouraged to develop tough skin, which is heartbreaking to me. Why? If deep down you’re a sensitive human being, you’re going to create some artificial armor so you can cope with the disappointment that you’re faced with through dating and work? No. I want to feel what I feel and express who I am. Why do I have to build up tough skin because I live in an area where you’re encouraged to? That seems gross to me. That’s part of what I mean. This whole dating culture that we have encourages men and women to relate to each other in fascinating ways. 

Also, what’s the result of it? If you have a series of coping mechanisms that are designed to blunt your emotional response or somehow mute your sensitivity to disappointment, sadness, trauma or any of those things, what’s the logical conclusion? You spend all of these relationships blunting this, Whitney. When you finally find a person you want to be with that you do feel connected to, perhaps then all of that conditioning and all of that practice of us blunting our emotional responses doesn’t allow us then to connect that deeply with the person we want to be with. 

The potentially natural consequence of this behavior is you practice walling yourself off or, as you said, Whitney, having thick skin. In some ways, that stuns our ability to deeply connect with a person we want to once we meet them because we’re in the habit of suppressing emotions, not crying, not feeling things. In a way, these behaviors keep us safe or prevent sadness, prevent trauma, “I didn’t care about them anyway,” that type of behavior. It’s not like all of a sudden that switch is going to get flicked off when we meet someone we care about. We’re a result of the behaviors we do consistently that become habits. If we’re in the habit of stunting our emotions and blocking those, are we automatically going to feel everything when we meet the right person? No, we’re going to have to recondition ourselves to feel again. This strategy, in my opinion, is eventually going to backfire. 

There are many elements to this in terms of what backfires. Another point in here that we can relate to is online. You can be slim, rich, buff. You can feel like you have more opportunities than in the real world. We can edit our messages until they project the self we want to be. That’s what happens on social media a lot, to the point where catfishes are becoming more common. Collectively, we’ve edited ourselves so much. We’re not who we project ourselves to be. 

We’re getting to a point too, Jason, where that’s acceptable. That’s the norm. I feel like we touched upon this in another episode. That makes some of us uncomfortable because we want it to be real. If you think about her point about how visitors at Animal Kingdom prefer animatronics over the biologically real animals, perhaps the animatronics feel real to them and that’s enough because they satisfy them, they please them. Maybe that’s why it’s acceptable for us to modify ourselves online because it’s pleasing to the eyes of others. 

The downside of this though and this has happened an innumerable number of times where I will meet someone that I’m only familiar with from their online presence. I meet them IRL and it’s like, “You don’t look, act or behave the way that your online persona does. It’s fascinating.” Is that a “bad thing?” I don’t know that I want to label it but it’s fascinating to meet someone and go, “You’re not how I thought you would be at all.” That has happened more times than I can count. Maybe it’s like the old trope, Whitney, of artists that create these alternate personas on stage. They have a stage name, a stage persona, a thing that they do where they’re building a brand to sell records, sell movies, sell books, whatever it is but, in real life, they’re someone completely different. 

I don’t want to label it as a bad thing because, in the entertainment world, this is not new to social media. This is something that’s been happening in other artistic industries for many years. You have this being on stage, in music videos or whatever is this person, you meet him in real life and you’re like, “You’re not how I thought you would be at all.” They’re like, “That is a persona I created.” This isn’t a new precedent. It’s taken on maybe a deeper level of significance because more people are doing it. It’s a few rock stars changing their name and creating a persona. Now, a lot of people are doing it. It blurs the line between illusion and reality. It goes back to one of the overarching questions of this episode, what’s real? 

Going back to something that you had said earlier, I love the way that Sherry articulates all of this. She said, “The world is now full of modern Goldilockses. People who take comfort in being in touch with a lot of people who they also keep at bay.” It’s like, “It feels good to be in touch with all these people but I’m going to keep you at a distance. I’m going to pretend that I’m someone else. I’m going to always be looking for Mr. or Mrs. Right, the right friend. Everybody’s disposable.” She says, “With constant connection comes new anxieties of disconnection, a kind of panic. Our new devices provide space for the emergence of a new state of the self, itself split between the screen and the physical, real wired into existence through technology.” 

“All of this makes us fluent with technology but brings a set of new insecurities. They nurture friendships with social networking sites and then wonder if they are among friends. They are connected all day but are not sure if they have communicated. They become confused about companionship. Their digitized friendships played out with emoticon emotions so often predicated on rapid response rather than reflection, may prepare them at times through nothing more than their superficiality. For relationships that could bring superficiality to a higher power that is for relationships with the inanimate. They come to accept lower expectations for connection. Finally, the idea that robot friendships could be sufficient. Overwhelmed by the volume and velocity of our lives, we turn to technology to help us find time but technology makes us busier than ever and ever more in search of retreats. Gradually, we come to see our online life as life itself.” 

Hasn’t all of this been completely exacerbated by the global pandemic we’ve all been in? Certainly, it has. Everything that you’re describing, Whitney, the dial has been ratcheted up because most countries were on lockdown of some kind. All of these things about the line between online life and physical third-dimensional life, it’s more blurred than ever.  

Further down this chapter, she says, “The triumphant narrative of the web is the reassuring story that people want to hear and that technologists want to tell. The heroic story is not the whole story. In virtual worlds and computer games, people are flattened into a persona. In social networks, people are reduced to their profiles. On our mobile devices, we often talk to each other on the move and with little disposable time. In fact so little that we communicate in a new language of abbreviation in which letters stand for words and emoticons for feelings. We don’t ask open-ended, ‘How are you?’ Instead, we ask the more limited, ‘Where are you? What’s up?’” 

“We have increasingly connected to each other but oddly more alone. In intimacy, new solitudes. Technology presents itself as a one-way street. We are likely to dismiss discontents about its direction because we read them as growing out of nostalgia, Luddite impulse or as simply in vain. When we ask what we “miss,” we may discover what we care about, what we believe to be worth protecting. We prepare ourselves not necessarily to reject technology but to shape it in ways that honor what we hold dear. Of every technology, we must ask, does it serve our human purposes? A question that causes us to reconsider what these purposes are.” 

That feels like a good spot to end on. Do you know how sometimes you’re like, “That feels like a good endpoint?” This is a complex conversation. For you, dear readers, if this idea of connection versus intimacy, online relationships versus real relationships, finding the meaning in all of this, if this subject matter resonated with you or piqued your interest or sparked your outrage. We have no idea how you’re feeling. Let us know how you feel. Shoot us an email directly. It’s [email protected], which is also our website. 

MGU 241 | Illusion Of Intimacy

Illusion Of Intimacy: One of the layers that makes human connections so rich is that there are elements of relationships that are scary.

 

We always love to know how you feel. When we get those personal emails from you, it feels intimate. Oftentimes, the emails we do get are sharing a lot about people’s personal lives, their emotional struggles, their reflections on the subject matter. If you feel compelled to weigh in, please shoot us a direct email. It’s always wonderful to hear your perspectives on these subjects. You can also DM us. A lot of people prefer to DM us on Instagram. We always love to hear your perspectives and your reflections on these. 

It’s interesting, Whitney because you and I have this small event that we’re going to. I feel some interesting emotion since we’ve talked so much about connection and intimacy during this episode. It’ll be interesting to see how we both feel going to this gathering. Wish us luck, dear readers. We’ll probably comment on it in a future episode of This Might Get Uncomfortable. Thanks for being with us. We appreciate your readership, your reviews and your shares on social media. We’ll be back with another episode soon. Thank you!

Important Links:

*We use affiliate links in our show notes. This means we receive a small sales commission if you purchase an item based on our recommendation.

Love the show? Subscribe, rate, review, and share!

Join the This Might Get Uncomfortable community today: