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Psychiatrist warns against relying on technological experiences as a substitute for love

I recently addressed our inability to do what’s good for ourselves when it comes to food. And now Dr. Todd Essig, in a Forbes magazine article, warns us that we do the same thing when it comes to technology.

The title of his article is irresistible: “Scarlett Johansson and the Future of Love and Sex.” That doesn’t sound much like an article about technology, but Essig analyzes two of Johansson’s recent films, “Don Jon” and “Her,” to make a critical point: Beware of falling in love with the experiences that our technology produces because they’re illusions.

“[O]our need for connection makes it very easy for technology to capture the human heart,” Essig writes. Pornography is a huge product of modern technology. In “Her” the porn is nothing more than a sultry voice. In “Don Jon” porn is porn.

“[M]aking technology in our own image helps create the alienation and loneliness it then tries to soothe,” Essig warns, adding that many of us today “are seeking solace from the limitations of technologically-mediated experiences by seeking more technologically-mediated experiences. Beware.”

The world portrayed in these films reflects the attempts by the characters to refine their self-centered lifestyles, which has always been a huge concern of mine when it comes to technology. (That’s one reason why I’m not on Facebook.) If you can’t get what you want from another human being, get it from a machine, especially since machines can be built and programmed to give you whatever you want. But that only builds up the very kind of self-centered thinking that is the antithesis of love.

Love is about self-giving — about valuing someone as much as, and even more than, you value yourself. But that kind of self-giving is only possible when you have been loved by someone else in that way. That raises the obvious question: Who will love me like that? Who will be the first one to love? Who will get the ball rolling?

The answer is in 1 John 4:19: “It’s not that we love but that God loved us first.” And God’s love is truly staggering because He values us more than He valued His own son, because He allowed His son to suffer so we wouldn’t have to suffer and, more than that, so that we would be free to receive love and then give it.

The last line of Essig’s article hints at his solution: “I’m not anti-technology. I’m pro-mindfulness.” Mindfulness is a modern-day euphemism for Buddhism and Essig, as a clinical psychologist, knows that.

If I understand Buddhism correctly, it teaches that you can be the source of self-giving love. If you believe that, take a crack at it. But don’t be surprised when you run out of it and need a refill in the form of being loved selflessly.

That’s when you’ll discover how inept we human beings are when it comes to self-giving love. Technology has become a powerful alternative because we believe it will never fail us as human beings always seem to do. We believe that technology can lead us into a perfect world. The only problem, of course, is that technology is the product of imperfect human beings. And those who are imperfect can never create something that is perfect.

About Mark Azzara

Mark Azzara spent 45 years in print journalism, most of them with the Waterbury Republican in Connecticut, where he was a features writer with a special focus on religion at the time of his retirement. He also worked for newspapers in New Haven and Danbury, Conn. At the latter paper, while sports editor, he won a national first-place writing award on college baseball. Azzara also has served as the only admissions recruiter for a small Catholic college in Connecticut and wrote a self-published book on spirituality, "And So Are You." He is active in his church and facilitates two Christian study groups for men. Azzara grew up in southern California, graduating from Cal State Los Angeles. He holds a master's degree from the University of Connecticut.

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