- Introduction: EmiRec, social networks and anthropological change
This text is stimulated by a current re-reading of McLuhan, which is nothing other than the analysis of the world of communication focused on social networks. Intellectually, we are moved by the fact that this author is quoted without reading him, as his thought is closer to the current world than to his own. However, the academy, in many cases, considers him to be superficially superseded. Consequently, we have opted to go to the primary sources for our research, reading and interpreting McLuhan’s texts directly. For the quotations, we will use the translations we have in Spanish, but the study has been carried out by reading the original work.
When the remake of Ernst Lubitsch’s exceptional film The Bazaar of Surprises (1940) was made in 1998, the title chosen for this update of the epistolary relationships of the earlier setting was You’ve Got Mail (Nora Ephron, 1998). The latter film incorpora- ted immediacy, so that love relationships were seen to incorporate a new technology. Without wishing to be a spoiler, the point of the film, in a clear reference to Jean Austen’s novel Pride and Prejudice (1813), is that people who were even in love online had to overcome their prejudices in real life in order not to hate each other. This gives rise to different affective ways of doing things inside and outside social networks.
Cinema as an artistic expression, as McLuhan explained, somehow becomes an anti-environment that shows us “the emperor’s old clothes” (McLuhan, 1966A, pp. 357–365). In fact, quite rightly, in Fraudebook (2016), Serrano Marín argues that The Social Network (David Fincher, 2010), the Mark Zuckerberg biopic, describes Facebook as the story of a love affair of its creator, which “will allow him to execute the plan and perhaps satisfy his wounded self. The revenge will be called Facebook” (Serrano Marín, 2016, p. 10).
This clearly represents the idea of environment and how technology affects affectivities. Therefore, it still seems unheard of to discuss any topic of technology and its changes on human beings without citing McLuhan or, at worst, taking his categories and analysis without citing him. For example, the concepts global village, global environment or global media network are now commonly used, categories that serve to understand how our lives are mediatised by technology. As McLuhan and Fiore themselves already anticipated in the late 1960s in their book The medium is the massage (2001), the technological environment that is taking over “is forcing us to consider and re-evaluate virtually every thought, every action, and every institution that has been taken for granted until now. Everything is changing: you, your family, your neighbour- hood, your education, your job, your government, your relationship with ‘others’. And it is changing dramatically” (McLuhan and Fiore, 2015, p. 8). But we must not forget that our helplessness lies in the fact that our ways of doing require strategies for the present, which in many cases we do not have, as we have been educated in an ear- lier environment. Information and communication technologies, which are already installed in every human pocket, are a new organ that has implied an anthropological change. We define the mobile phone as an organ because it is a technology, but we
35 can no longer live without it. In our university classes, we have repeatedly asked this ominous question: What would you choose between having a mobile phone or keeping two kidneys? It may come as a surprise, but increasingly the answer has beco- me in favour of losing the organ that belongs to the urinary system. This may seem like an anecdote devoid of scientific value, but it does place us in the context of how technologies create our vital propositions. These approaches bring McLuhan closer to Deleuze, when the latter, in a television interview, stated that one does not love a person but the landscape that he represents, as Maite Larrauri explains, affectivity is a construction, “we produce, we fabricate a whole, when we desire. Deleuze sums it up as follows:” (…) “it is with worlds that we always make love” (Larrauri, 2001, p. 4). When concepts such as biopolitics or technologies of the self, developed by Foucault, appear, we could say that, in relation to technologies and the development of the hu- man being, it has its original development in the work of McLuhan. This is clearly seen when he explains that technology as “the prolongation of any meaning modifies the way we think and act… The way we perceive the world” (McLuhan and Fiore, 2015, p. 41).
Today, what we are experiencing is a coexistence of multiple generations, from the boomers who were born without television to the centennials, passing through those educa- ted by the cathode ray of generation X and the millennials. Thus, a continuous communication paradigm shift emerges that drives a transformation of social relations. A clear example is how television, with respect to cinema, begins the journey by reducing the group to the family, and the latest technologies allow you a relationship with the audiovisual that is experienced in the solitude of a screen and headphones. But perhaps a clear example of affective change is how social networks have affected new affective practices in relation to love, with online dating platforms such as Tinder, or friendship, through social networks such as Facebook (now starting to fall into disuse), Twitter, Twitch or Instagram.
This anthropological change in a global village of communicational behaviours connects McLuhan with the category that Bourdieu calls a habitus, in the words of the French sociologist, “that generating and unifying principle that retranslates the intrinsic and relational characteristics of a position into a unitary lifestyle, i.e. a unitary set of choices of people, goods and practices” (Bourdieu and Passeron, 1997, p. 19). Consequently, we could think that what is called “love” in the virtual world is not exactly “love”, but what this affective deployment on the Internet does have is the emergence of a new habitus. Here Lukács’ (2007) ontology of social being is revealed, where the technological context we live in, and the possible new changes in the experiential paradigms, shape the modes of relationship.
2. Notion of the technological environment for the new modes of relationship
To understand an environment, it is necessary to attend to the new categories that allow us to explain reality, in such a way that an affective environment, mediated by those around us, has its own concepts to define relationships. Thus Zygmun Bauman, in his book Liquid Love (2003), proposed a shift in the affections of the new environment from relationships to connections. There is less and less talk of kinship relations and more and more talk of networks (Bauman, 2003, p. 12). Thus, “virtual relationships are easy in and out. They seem sensible and hygienic, user-friendly and
user-friendly, when compared to the “real thing”, heavy, inert, slow and complicated” (Bauman, 2003, p. 12). Coexisting with these emotional modes of doing are other affective anti-environments, which are in a state, like all anti-environments, of disengagement, resulting in a disorientation or a response of resistance to the new mo- des of relating. Once again, cinema showed this type of “uncoupling”, as Jordi Claramonte explains, in this case crystallising it in a film genre, the western. With the displacement of pioneer society, with the arrival of industrial capitalism in the American West, some practices lost their meaning in the Old West. Moved by the technologies of the new environment, such as the train or the new laws, their everyday life changed, leaving the cowboy with his habitus, “disengaged” (Claramonte, 2015, p. 22).
This is why we are going to bring into play the concept of mode of relationship, as it combines the idea of environment and relational space. We start from modal thin- king in its development by Jordi Claramonte, where a mode of relation is “to find a composition, to find a proportion, which puts the different polarities in relation” (Claramonte, 2016, p. 19), in such a way that different needs are articulated in a punctual balance of forces within a dynamic process. McLuhan, as stated by Clara- monte, states that what defines the environment of the age of Electricity, with the great speed of electromagnetic waves, is “an attention to the “total field” that has not failed to have a great impact on all kinds of fields” (Claramonte, 2016, p. 26).
The new environment is based on detecting our desires in order to make them profitable, which makes us multiply exponentially the value that McLuhan gave to the profits of communication companies (McLuhan, 1961, p. 162). This reality affects the displays of love in the network with an economic outcome of social networks. The Canadian philosopher warned of what is clearly a fact of life today. For example, Facebook, a social network dedicated to friendship, earned 900 million dollars in the third quarter of 2021 (El País, 2021). The environment is defined by a selective attention that converts our affections into a reaction towards a given sense of the world, such that “all cultural situations are composed of an area of attention (figure) and a much larger area of inattention (background)” (McLuhan and Powers, 1993, p. 22). Technology, in the global consumer society, blurs in its prominence its function and use. To understand the meaning of figure and background in an environment, it is necessary to con- sider it as a mode of relationship, where there is not a kind of sequentiality, but an interrelation. “Between the artefact and the personal or social response there is an interval of play as between the wheel and the axle. This interval constitutes the gestalt of interaction and figure-ground transformation” (McLuhan and Powers, 1993, p. 36).
3. The tetrad to understand love
McLuhan does not explain a frozen world, he provides the tools to understand a dynamic world, in continuous transformation. In the complex world he defines, affectivities are not unrelated to technologies, because our everyday practices transform human relations. Consequently, we have chosen the tetrad as an epistemological tool for analysing technology, including the environment of practices that it provokes, and we are going to apply it within the affective space of love, which, as defined by Comte-Sponville, from different Greek concepts, is divided into eros, philia and agape (Comte-Sponville, 2021, p. 32).
In order to focus on the effects of the new social network environment, we must delimit the aspects of anthropological change that we want to explain. The concept of love, developed in its different definitions, allows us to encompass the different meanings that are translated by new modes of relating. Eros is “love-passion: the love we feel when we are in love, but in the strongest and truest sense”. (Comte-Sponville, 2021, p. 33). In another sense, love can be translated as philia, friendship, “the love for all that is not lacking” (Comte-Sponville, 2021, p. 61). It is what Aristotle called “perfect friendship”, not for interest or pleasure, but that of “virtuous men”, meaning men and women who do good to each other, the “friendship par excellence” (Aristotle, 2007, p. 227). Finally, we have agape, a Greek word, but which has had its greatest development in Christianity, being a synonym of the Latin caritas and translated as charity. Specifically, we will use its meaning of charity, in Simone Weil’s words, as withdrawal (Comte-Sponville, 2021, p. 85), when one ceases to be in order to be “the other”, like the love of the family.
Although we have treated these concepts separately, in order to generate a categorical closure, they would be three poles of the same affective environment (Comte-Sponville, 2021, p. 97). In fact, in a relationship, all three types could occur at the same time or, more precisely, occur in modulation. In fact, information and communication technologies go through these modulations by adapting to new practices.
The tetrad (McLuhan and Powers, 1993), starts from assuming a research strategy, where we can place ourselves in a place of observation of reality that allows us to be aware of the meaning of technologies in society. Four characteristics are common to all technologies: whether they amplify some aspect of being human, while at the same time rendering other practices and devices obsolete, but also recovering some element of the past that previous technologies had rendered impracticable. Finally, we cannot forget that intensified use can reverse the initial sense of improvement that it presaged. This metaphor is supported by a Möbius strip that divides the approach into four aspects: Augmentation or improvement, obsolescence, recovery and reversal.
We will deploy the idea of an epistemological tool as a probe, coupled with an interdisciplinary approach, where the research opens up our analysis to new angles. This is the meaning of the tetradata for our research, to bring to light a look at technologies with elements of analysis that we had overlooked. We are interested in opening up new questions and obtaining new answers, to realise that what McLuhan predicted in the 20th century, we live in the 21st century, but, to paraphrase him we sometimes analyse human actions with tools from the 19th or 20th century environment, when digital social networks did not exist.
The media explain the world to us, “All media are active metaphors because of their power to translate experience into new forms” (McLuhan, 1996, p. 78). A fact that is also transformed into a way of wanting, a way of loving. This connects us with the idea of figure and background, which we discussed earlier, since the recovery in the figure is to the obsolete in the form as the enhancement in the figure is to the inversion in the background (McLuhan and Powers, 1993, p. 22), at the same time as all this crystallises in a mode of relation. Affectivity is affected by the figure, the technological medium that mediates relations, but because we enter a communicative space, the background, which has its own rules and marks our inter-subjective practices; in the same way that the automobile as a figure conditions our ways of doing and provokes changes in the background that makes up the environment (McLuhan and Powers, 1993, p. 29).
The way in which we will apply the epistemological tools is based on reviewing the different questions of the tetrad based on the types of love in their relationship with social networks in the use of ICTs.
New modes of relationship: Eros, philia and agape
When McLuhan puns on the title of a book (McLuhan and Fiore, 2015), turning “the medium is the message” into The Medium is the Massage (2015), he intends to define media as environments that prolong human faculties, that leave an imprint (McLuhan and Fiore, 1996, p. 26). In this sense, the media “manhandle” us, “mould” us, change our ways of relating to the world. The social network environment is in conflict with and threatens old ideas, thus defining our relationships with “the others”, in short, conditioning our way of deploying love.
When analysing virtual modes of relationship from the perspective of the tetrad, we ask ourselves what it is about social networks that extends and facilitates the putting into play of love; we mean that it increases or expands the affective practices of the human being.
Whether for Eros, philia or agape, it would seem that, with the introduction of the possibility of almost continuous communication on social networks, the capacity for intersubjectivity would increase, in such a way as to extend the practices of affectivity to any time of day and place on the planet. In fact, this new need for online love-passion, for virtual eros, has led to huge economic gains. Already in 2016, eDarling, the digital dating platform, “grew by 20% to reach 60 million euros” (Costantini, 2016).
Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram or FaceTime, for example, bring communication closer. In fact, you can see more and know more about someone far away than someone who lives next door to you. Some people have more information from friends who are far away
39 in their place of residence than even when they lived close by. This connects us to eros and philia, which have increased the possibilities of communication with the virtual encounter.
Communication technology creates masses, a global village, as opposed to the printing press that generated an audience of independent individuals (McLuhan and Fiore, 1996, p. 63); now we are interdependent and our friends know what we do and we know what they do. In the new environment, we are obliged to nurture our interdependence in the network, extending intersubjectivity. In a twist on McLuhan’s ideas, Dominique Wolton argues that television creates society, while the internet builds community (Declós, 2007), in such a way that affective conflicts are resolved online as in a small village of immediate intersubjective connection. In fact, the internet sometimes becomes an agora where care practices are constructed through communities of taste, where agape experiences are shared. This is the case with social networks to support parenting, where “families seek the support of people or institutions that support the absence of parents at home, thereby strengthening the use of social support networks to generate links that facilitate the role of parents” (Roldán Ramírez, 2016, p. 75). In another sense, gone are the complications of finding a partner, now, at the “swipe of a screen”, apps search for and organise amorous encounters on the web, rendering obsolete all those face-to-face seduction strategies, giving way to online courtship. Now eros has a technological mediation beyond perfume: dating apps. If we think of philia, which, as the RAE states, “is born and strengthened through interaction” (Real Academia Española, 2014), that is, the presence in the way of relating, we are forced to discover in social networks a kind of obsolescence of friends- hip habits. The relationship implies an encounter, a proximity. The interpellation of presentiality disappears and immerses us in an immediate encounter, so that the tête-à-tête is no longer part of the repertoire necessary for the emergence of philia.
Social networks have cooled down the media, requiring a lot of participation. The idea of prosumer appears from Toffler’s definition (producer-consumer) and is linked to an evolution from receptive passivity to critical creation. We are, in Cloutier’s words, EmiRec (Emitter-Receiver). McLuhan anticipates the idea of prosumer and EmiRec (Cloutier, 2001), as he gives a fundamental role to the union of producer and user 3⁄4author-spectator3⁄4 of social communication. In such a way, it allows the choice of a social network more suitable for the communicational emergence of love. In this sense, some affective spaces and practices that do not have the immediacy and reciprocity of the deployment of eulabeia, careful attention, are obsolete: a virtual love encounter, a birthday greeting to a friend or a message about the well-being of a relative.
Traditional expressions of love, in their various forms, have become obsolete on the internet. Social networks are taking over a new type of affectivity: followers. In fact, the members of a virtual community of taste are sometimes called friends (Serrano Marín, 2016, p. 31). The interesting thing is that each network mediates the type of friend you are, since it is not the same to be able to follow someone freely on the networks or to have to be accepted, adding to the fact that the idea of friendship also contains a genera- tional and cultural character. Consequently, we can define a social network, for example Facebook, as “a potentially universal bank of affectivity” (Serrano Marín, 2016, p. 34). There is also a phenomenon in today’s family relationships that involves an encounter between two gazes that have been educated in environments with a different sense of agape. In fact, in the relationship with “the other” a generational aspect also arises, where habits change with the process of relating to technologies. This generation gap renders obsolete previous ways of relating, which in today’s society translate into relationships of parental control, introduced by the ease of connection of communication devices. The landline telephone has rendered the epistolary relationship obsolete, but social networks recover for eros and philia that relationship at a distance, albeit from immediacy. If the relationship creates a form of communication, as the poet Luis García Montero expresses it when he writes “If love, like everything else, is a question of words, to get close to your body was to create a language” (García Montero), the impossibility of touching each other creates new forms of affective expression in philia and eros. In fact, in the recovery of erotic photography, the practice of sexting appears, which is the “sending of images or text messages with explicit sexual content through an electronic device, especially a mobile phone” (Real Academia Española, 2020). The human being of the global village needs to be accompanied, the closeness of recognition of the tribe has been recovered, in fact in many cases social networks ser- ve families to have a sense of proximity. Love in the new environment shapes an individual like Poe’s Man of the Crowd, who “refuses to be alone” (Poe, 2001. p. 261), but in this case, through communication devices, he will be accompanied all the time. In the age of information, or cognitive capitalism, where data is the most precious raw material (Broncano, 2019, p. 57), we must add a perspective that McLuhan al- ready saw, for example, in the videophone: this was not an element that would commercially relate the home to the shops, but would make the shop and the home, as we understood it, disappear (McLuhan, 1996, p. 228). We see this clearly with Amazon and all the new media and modes of production and sales that have been gene- rated around it. But what is relevant about this “global media network” environment (McLuhan and Powers, 1993, p. 174) is that it also adds new entertainment, pedagogy and personal relationships. In the sphere of affectivity, for example, virtual love and friendship relationships appear, recovering, as we have mentioned, epistolary relationships, but now from the audiovisual as an element that shapes the figure. The Canadian philosopher also anticipated, with the deployment of the videophone, a reality that will affect the consolidation of the digital environment. The media are becoming more and more participatory and are leaving behind those high-definition artefacts, where there is a lot of information, but the consumer has a passive role. The media are cooling down, but even if there is greater participation, they are confining themselves to a specific type of participation, within specific practices and new habits. We must not forget that “the medium is the message”, so when McLu- han speaks of the videophone as a two-way television, for researchers, in a trans- media environment, it means the appearance, as we have already explained, of a new being for digital technology: the EmiRec of a close communication of the tribe. Social networks for eros, philia and agape increase connection time, becoming a continuous state of flattering attention, where people expect likes from their friends, in a game of reciprocal flattery. This is very reminiscent of Montaigne’s idea of frivolous friendship, where “what we usually call friendship is nothing more than frequentations and familiarities entered into for some circumstance or some profit by means of which our souls are kept together” (Montaigne, 2000, p. 57). When McLuhan and Fiore talk about living in the “Age of Anxiety” (McLuhan and Fiore, 2015, p. 8), they were at that intellectually interesting point in which they were picking up the legacy of earlier philosophical thought in relation to the frivolisation or spectacularisation of the world, but, at the same time, they were going to connect with the studies that were to follow. Thus they bring into play the idea of language as technology expressed in the Phaedrus, the myth of the cave, the myth of Narcissus or the existentialism of Kierkegaard or Heidegger.
McLuhan’s discourse defines the current reality, as Pérex Jimenez (2021) explains, with the incursion of the self-image in social networks, which has introduced a narcissistic subject in Freud’s parameters, where the sexual object is oneself. Egoism, which is based on the “me” and “mine”, has emerged. Hence the interesting discussion on the Lacanian idea of semblance, where the space of identity is also for imposture: “it is not so much important to be as to seem” (Pérex Jimenez, 2021, p.81). Likes are once again defined through likes and followers. A social network thus becomes, as Vicente Serrano explains in Fraudebook, a “bank of intimacy”. It is very interesting how the other beco- mes, through the screens, an object, imposing the mandate of jouissance. A full-time jouissance, which can only be subverted in an emancipatory way if it translates into taking the attitude of “being open to life without interruption”, being open to possibility, to the world and to the other” (Pérex Jimenez, 2021, p. 145). Affectivity, in cognitive capitalism, is valued by fame, whose unit of measurement is followers. There is an idea of being famous for the sake of being famous. A whiting that bites its own tail and that provokes the great contradiction that after fame, and its accompanying desire to be loved, one suffers anxiety crises due to overexposure, as happened to the youtuber ElRubius.
The virtual identity at stake in eros and philia renders the identity of the contact obsolete, but the cultivation of the image on social networks can turn the internet user into a slave to the construction of his or her own image for love. To analyse the reversion provoked by the networks, we can use the McLuhanian metaphor of the myth of Narcissus. When we over-intensify the use of a medium without understanding it, the result is to perish in one of the ways of doing that dominate us, like Narcissus. We live in the age of narcissism, but in the McLuhanian sense, where Narcissus falls in love with the other, with his reflection as the other, which is the reflection as the avatar of the construction of affective identity on the net. The internet user in his virtual modes of relationship, as Ovid writes of Narcissus, “does not know what he sees, but he embraces himself in what he sees and the same illusion that deceives him incites his eyes” (Ovid, 2005, p. 297). Consequent- ly, the concept of postureo appears on the web, the “contrived and impostured attitude that is adopted for convenience or presumption” (Real Academia Española, 2014). The creation of a superficial self-image affects both eros and philia, and even agape, since in many cases affections are surrounded by theatricality, which becomes the opposite of loving practices. The myth of Narcissus is accompanied by the idea of narcosis (McLu- han, 2007, p. 45), which becomes more evident nowadays, since the network implies a clear reflection of people turned to “the others”, but added to a mediatised reflection.
The intensified use of social networks as a means of care relationship is increasing, leaving space for screens to occupy children or young people, as they are entertained and silent, without disturbing adults. The age of the people we see with a mobile phone in their hands is getting younger and younger, in fact in 2008, in an investigation by the ANIMA+D working group of the Rey Juan Carlos University (2008), 30% of the children surveyed already had a mobile phone at the age of 9. 80% of children have a mobile phone in their pocket and, moreover, consider it a necessity in their lives. In fact, the vast majority say that they even carry it to school. For children, the mobile phone has become a sign of identity that determines, or can determine, their position in their peer group (ANIMA+D, 2008, p. 99). As we can see, the use of social networks is affecting the modes of affective relations- hips, without forgetting that the reproductive nature of learning in childhood and youth means that social networks such as YouTube are taking on a major educational role. In fact, a characteristic that runs through all love practices mediatised by social networks is what has been called Gresham’s law, where “commitment is meaningless” and relationships are no longer reliable and are unlikely to last” (Bauman, 2003, p. 13), being closer to virtual connections than to what we have been defining as relationships. If “the medium is the massage”, the new environment created by social networks is characterised by the fact that it “imposes commitment and participation”, as the media are “an extension of the social network” (Bauman, 2003, p. 13). because the media are “extensions of some human faculty, whether psychic or physical”, so that “all media beat us from head to toe” (McLuhan and Fiore, 1996, p. 26). McLuhan warns us of a media overexposure that will force us to engage and participate with “the others”, but these practices will be mediatised, organised and translated, by new forms of affectivity that lead to collective guilt. “Instant communication ensures that all factors of environment and experience coexist in a state of active interaction” (McLuhan and Fiore, 1996, p. 63).
In this conclusion, we start from a fundamental idea: the media affect our senses. In fact, digital media appeal much more to the affects they provoke than to their content. When we talk about the internet search algorithm as an operation that brings confirmation bias into play, beyond our own knowledge, we are stating that the web works with our emotions, our tastes and our needs, much more than with a thematic aspect.
When human beings incorporate technology into their lives, we are giving the etymological vision of technology, since we are making it part of our being. Therefore, we must know how to embody technology so that it does not impoverish our daily lives. This educational character is reinforced when McLuhan warns us that we are like the frog that dies in the hot water, when it gradually increases in temperature. Human beings tend not to perceive their surroundings because they are immersed in them, like the young fish in Foster Wallace’s story, a story that seems to be inspired by McLuhan’s approach: “Once upon a time two young fish were swimming along and happened to meet an older fish swimming in the opposite direction; the older fish nodded to them and said: “Good morning, boys. How’s the water? The two young fish swam on for a while; at last one of them looked at the other and said, “What the hell is the water?” (Foster Wallace, 2014, pp. 9–10).
If technology always expands some capacity of human beings, it also transforms their view of the world and their ways of relating to it. As changes are so rapid, it is necessary, as McLuhan suggests, to develop a media pedagogy that combines an education of the emotions. It is in this sense that we have begun, as a trigger for the writing of this article, an experience in a primary school, where students reflect on their practices with social networks and the relationship with “the other” based on the tetradata.
Already McLuhan was already anticipating features of the “television generation” (McLuhan and Fiore, 1996, p. 41), describing it as “gloomy” and with a “determined” childhood dedicated to the medium. We only have to look at the data from very recently, where television had “achieved that, already in 2008, 30% of Spanish children the first thing they did when they got home was to switch it on” (Ortiz, 2008). We have realised that virtual love requires a great dedication of time, as it involves a search for recognition, which Agamben defines as “the struggle for a mask” (Agamben, 2011, p. 64), but this mask is prefigured by the media itself.
Eros, philia and agape, in this new communicational environment, are mediatised by social networks, so we will have to be attentive to the new practices for love in order not to feel like Narcissus. To do this, we can pay attention to the myth of Perseus, the Greek demigod who, in order to confront Medusa, whom he could not look in the eyes, used the reflection of his shield. We need the shield of aware- ness of media practices in order to understand their value in the everyday practices of affectivity, hence the pedagogical character of McLuhan’s reflection.