Technologically-mediated changes to how love is understood, valued: A Caveat to love seekers

By Princewell N. Achor, Ph.D

TECH DIGEST – The concept of love can be understood from multiple lenses. A few of the lenses we help us to understand the purpose and the context of this article: how technologically-mediated changes affect love, define the context to which people experience, seek or love, particularly as they celebrate valentine’s Day.

As the world celebrates the Valentine’s Day, different perspectives or interpretations of love are shared by secular-minded and religion-minded opinion moulders — all in a bid to defend the reason for or condemn the ‘annual love (ritual) event’ (ALE). Love has been described as ale that intoxicates when emotions are high and caution thrown to the winds. Exponents of this line of thought depict love in different ale: blue love, red love, and white or pure love.

Each of these depictions has been philosophically and literally interpreted to suit the context of the interpreter. Sociological cum traditional perspectives categorize love in terms of philia love, erotic love and agape love. I’m not inclined to specifically devote attention to each of these love typologies; this is, because, I assume that, they have received enough explanation in the mainstream literature holistically devoted to love, romance and dating. What I intend to do in this commentary is to pigeon-hole the concepts to suit my context, taking cognizance of the various sheds of opinions and interpretations of love.

I am not a love doctor nor sex therapist; I don’t intend to be one in future, but I’m concerned with the disruptive tendencies technology poses to traditionally-human-mediated love: how it’s expressed, valued, practised and sought by humans either in the family context or in the worldly context.

However, I will give more attention to a model of love (romantic relationship) which our young people have been erroneously celebrating during Valentine. This model of love has ethical implications. I will comment on the ethical implications and worries as it relates primarily to Valentine’s Day celebration and other occasions that young people meet to express love.

*Philosophies and
value of love*

In this article, I assume that love, is a complex ‘‘Biopsychosocial’’ phenomenon — whose aspects can be studied from both a scientific and social, experiential or philosophical point of views. For the purposes of our discussion and to properly situate the context of which my arguments are based, I adopt the dual approach to interpret love.

One aspect of the dual perspective include aspects of love that are open to scientific investigation (i.e. Neurochemistry of romantic attachment, the evolutionary history of human pair bonding, and those aspects of love that people experience in terms of associated hormones, behaviour, etc. The amplified version of this distinguishes lust, attraction, and attachment; it tries to investigate the neurochemistry and biological dimensions of love.

The other aspect of the dual perspective recognizes love as a ‘psychological and social-cultural’ phenomenon. This aspect has been argued to be subjectively experienced in a certain way, while its values lie within a given cultural or historical context. This kind or aspect of love is often depicted in arts, plays, movies, songs, poetry, and philosophy.

Arising from this point of view, is, the need to understand how people think about love, what they value about love and the way people may visualise love as a normative phenomenon. This second aspect of our dual perspective gives philosophers clues when they write about love or theorize about love. However, we cannot isolate either of the aspects of the dual perspective in explaining love.

*What is the value of love?*
Different scholars have designated love as a value —something we all desire, plan our lives around and put high premium on our lists of priorities. Many positive-effects or added benefits of love are assumed to be conditional depending on individual’s assessment indicators: ‘‘it might make us happy, it might be good for our health and well-being’’.

However, philosophers and other scholars assume that love is not purely valued as a means to other goods; rather, it’s usually valued as an end in itself. In course of my research, I have observed that, in the list of people’s most important goods in life, love appears to be given topmost priority. This invariably makes love to have an intrinsic value. Given that opinion differs, ‘‘when people value love, they may have different ideas or association regarding what love is or what it should be in order to qualify as the particular sort of good that it is’’. People often differ in the exact qualities they attribute to love, and according to Nyholm, Danaher and Earp in their latest writings on love, these qualities, ‘‘may also evolve over time at a wider cultural level ’’.
Irrespective of social-cultural differences between different qualities and associations people attribute to love, there are ideas that are common across cultures.

Some of the shared ideas have dominated philosophical discussions of love in Western societies and expressed in pop songs and poetry. I will share a few of these ideas here, in order to keep track of our context and concept of love and the disruption caused by technologically-mediated changes to how love is understood, valued and appreciated.

The first idea sees love as the existence and feeling that lovers are a ‘‘good match’’. In other words, two lovers of opposite sex think or believe that they are ‘made for each other (that is a sort of soul mates). Because of their shared values, interests, likes and dislikes, etc; both lovers feel that they belong together, seen as one and regard each other as ‘better or other half’. The second notion indicates that love involves two or more persons that mutually value one another for their individual unique attributes. They see each other as irreplaceable. By contrast, when there is absence of respect to each other’s individual’s unique attributes, there tend to be a ‘’clash with people’s perception about love as a means of valuing someone for who they are’’. The third notion associates love with a special kind of relationship, characterised by some level of commitment. This commitment could be formal (in terms of marriage) or less formal (in terms of sincere plan to stick by one another). The bottom-line is that, irrespective type of commitment, it is envisaged that people who love each other should be willing to stay in it or stick by one another for a long time through thick and thin, in sickness and in health.

*Technologies and value of love*

The generic value of love can be disrupted or enhanced through the use of technology. There is need to emphasize here, that, the technologies we use have impact on human life, though this notion can be contested. Through the Instrumental theory of technology, technologies are tools used for particular purposes: these technologies ‘‘significantly affect how we experience, perceive, and value things, including ourselves’’. There are many ways this can happen — they affect what we are able to do, what we pay attention to, what becomes most important in our life and how we perceive events, objects and our environment. All this invariably affects what we value and how we value it. The social media technology comes handy in explaining how technology-mediated changes affect how we love, express love, value love and understand love.
Through curated information, this technology allows one to instantaneously make choices about whom to love, how and when to express/profess love or even seek love based on distorted information. A lot of people now define love based on distorted information they have about someone, and their attitude about love is shaped by personality of people they meet in the digital domain. Some people place much value on internet love or dating, which is often propagated by deceits, lies and misplacement of social and cultural values. We must acknowledge here, that, there are added values social media technologies or platforms have brought to social interactions, expression of love, and in the sustenance of mutually beneficial relationships.
Again, social media and other dating websites, love chat rooms have added new dimension to ‘match making, the old practice of paring two love birds (man and woman) for the possible marriage or relationship. The match maker post photographs of the intended love birds in a dating site or post separately to their social media handles. Digital natives and other netizens now rely on the social media validations of an active user of social networking sites to define or select who to have a crush on or approach for intimate relationship. Unfortunately, values like compatibility, ethically-defined and observable traits are not given consideration as people seek love and affection in the digital domain.
The disruptive nature of technology has also impacted on how love is practised and consummated. Social media and other internet-enabled platforms facilitate exchange of nude pictures by ‘‘so-called lovers’’, while internet or online sex has become a new normal for satisfying lovers sexual desires and intimacy..
Emerging and future technologies such as sex robots, love drugs, anti-love drugs, algorithms that track, quantify and gamify romantic relationship have changed and continue to alter how we understand and value love. There are ethical concerns or worries associated with this trend of life. The digital natives are neck dip into technology-aided life style and are now prone to exploring options to enhance their sex life
Young people now indulge in love enhancement biotechnologies or what is popularly referred to as love drugs: they act on the biological dimensions of love which influence lust, attraction, attachment and romantic aspects of their lives. Research has shown that these drugs are used as stimulant ‘‘to sustain or improve relationships that are worth maintaining (“pro-love drugs”).’’ High intake of these drugs is prevalent during valentine celebration.
Humanoid robots and avatars is another technology that has affected the context of love as espoused in this article.

The use of Sex robot as sex partners is trending. They are used for sex or romantic partnership with humans. Though they are created for overtly sexual purposes, the manufacturers are now marketing them as’ true companions’: that is artificial humans that can engage emotionally with the user. Sex robots have been equally promoted or used as a form of romantic partner.

*Ethical Implications and concluding remarks*
There are ethical implications of technologically-mediated changes to how love is perceived, practised or understood during the celebration of Saint Valentine’s Day.

First, It is ethically wrong for people to equate ‘animated companionship’ that robot offers to that of human companionship in real life romantic relationship. Second, over indulgence in love enhancement biotechnologies as a way to celebrate valentine day is ethically and morally wrong. Romantic love or romance is not originally associated with Valentine and indulging in the use of technology to alter the meaning of Valentine day should be jettisoned by our young people. However, the use social media technology can positively be used to promote the essence of valentine: sharing of selfless love and affection, giving of gifts to loved ones, friends. E-electronic payment platforms should be used to send money to loved ones. True companionship cannot be found in the use of sex drugs and Sex robots, virtual boy friends or virtual girl friends. They only create artificial behaviourism, which is outward behaviour that deemphasizes people’s inner feeling.