Toronto, Ellen L. K. 2009. Time Out of Mind: Dissociation in the Virtual World. Psychoanalytic Psychology. 26 (2) 117-133), I have described the case of the young woman whose use of the Internet had cordoned off an important part of her psychic life. In doing so she performed her work responsibilities well but paid a
I then stated that the internet and the virtual world it presents have changed our lives forever. It has and will continue to be a significant part of our culture and a defining aspect of human interaction. As with any other change of this magnitude, its effects are be both positive and negative. Its positive impact is phenomenal with the capability to connect and integrate the human family in ways that we have never dreamed possible. It can, I believe, however, become a substitute world, controlled by the click of a mouse and outside the demands of real-time, genuine emotion, and meaningful engagement. To that extent, it has drawn us away from the essential characteristics of human development, a 21st century equivalent of social alienation. I am hopeful that psychoanalysis, with its wealth of understanding of individual and interpersonal functioning, can make a significant contribution, placing the engagement with the virtual world in an appropriate perspective and reminding us yet again of the amazing and timeless capabilities of our minds, our imagination, and the healing power of human love.
Now more than ten years later, we are experiencing a worldwide pandemic that has thrust us into “the demands of real-time, genuine emotion and meaningful engagement.” For the millions infected with the virus, the pain is real. So it is for the health-care workers trying to keep up while watching their patients suffer and die; for the farmers, food deliverers, and grocery store attendants working long hours to bring food to our tables; for the scientists working night and day to discover a vaccine; for the dying and their families enveloped in grief. For those of us who are sheltering in place, seeing no other humans but our housemates and longing for a hug, a dance, a laugh with our far-away grandchildren, the Internet is a lifeline, acceptable and fortunate, but inadequate. It cannot replace the touch, the sight, the sound, the smell of other human beings. How much will my grandchildren have grown before I see them again? How will my sons look in person with beards and shaggy hair? Will I ever be able to hug them again? Will the Internet and Zoom be our new “reality?” Can we ever walk freely among our fellow human beings without fear of catching a deadly virus? Will we endure years of gloves and masks–no hugs, no sweaty basketball games, no live theatre, or concerts with thousands of screaming fans?
Perhaps we have failed to treasure our humanity. The Internet can do virtually everything we need, right? But Mother Nature, as cruel as she is magnificent, has something else to say. “Enough, my children! You forget that you are not robots, alone in the Universe with nothing but a computer screen. You are made of flesh and blood and bones. You need one another in real-time and real life. But you have squandered your riches. So I will humble you. I will insist that you depend on one another. You will grieve for what you have lost and embrace your frailty, your vulnerability. Computer games can go on forever, but your time on earth is short. Look into one another’s faces. Suffer along with those who are ill. Mourn with the dying and their families. Cherish your loved ones in this brief time you have on earth. This is my message and you will heed!”
Yes, Mother. I hope that all of us are listening.