Louis CK was on Conan the other night and he brought up an issue that I had touched on briefly in a former post– technophobia and Harraway’s theory of the “cyborg.” He says that he feels children are growing up in an era of technological apathy, where a sense of “empathy” for others is disregarded in favor of the handheld device, or as I like to call it, “the omniscient screen.” Again, though, Harraway’s theory suggests that our concerns about technology are rather superficial, and that the paradigmatic essence of the contemporary human experience is inextricable from our technological developments. It’s at this point that Louie so elegantly, albeit coincidentally, is able to correctly identify the deeper nuance of technophobia– Lacan’s notion of desire:
“…you know, underneath everything in your life, there’s that thing, that empty, forever empty. You know what I’m talkin’ about?…That knowledge that it’s all for nothin’, and you’re alone. And sometimes, when things clear away, and you’re not watching it, you’re in your car, and your start going ‘Oh no, here it comes, that I am alone,’…it starts to visit on you…just this sadness. Life is tremendously sad just by being in it. And so you go [and reach for your phone]…but people are willing to risk taking a life and ruining their own because they don’t wanna be alone for a second…you never feel completely sad, or completely happy. You just feel kind-of satisfied, and then you die” (teamcoco)
In short, Lacan’s theory of desire is that we seek to recapture the sense of wholeness and unity we had when we were in, what he calls, the imaginary stage, or, essentially, the psychological state we were in before we discovered language, which he calls the symbolic order. The problem is that, because language is self-referential (a closed system) and incapable of directly referring to anything outside of itself, we essentially shed our subjectivity–our concept of ourselves–as we enter this symbolic order. This creates a sense of lack, or, as Louie says, “that empty, forever empty.” This is the void that’s associated with solitude precisely because we don’t have Others to give us our self-definition (names and sense of identity here being associated with basic unit of the symbolic order, words which only have a context through their association to other words). In other words, we reach for our phone as if our receiving a text message from someone validates and reconstitutes our subjectivity giving us the sense that we are fixed in a stable, consistent identity. However, as Louie suggests, this is only an illusion because we are losing the more important exchange of a complex emotion, empathy, in favor of a simplistic few seconds of apathy. Yet, an illusion is all that it remains, and there is “no new self, except as the endlessly receding horizon of desire” (Mansfield 46).
Still, even though I have the iPhone 5…I kinda feel like less of a person because I don’t have the iPhone 5s. Look at me in my lower-upper-lower-middle class squaller…where I should be…because I don’t have the 5s…I’m so alone.
teamcoco. Louis C.K. Hates Cell Phones. Online video clip. Youtube. Youtube. 2013. Film.
Mansfield, Nick. Subjectivity: Theories of the Self from Freud to Haraway. New York: New York University Press, 2000. Print.