On the other hand, we have the advances of technology and electronic devices that tend to eliminate body contact as much as possible – from texting, e-mailing, dating apps to even electronic therapy services.
For instance at Talkspace.com “over 500 professional licensed therapists are waiting to chat with you right now”. Here is their marketing language: “Therapy for how we live today: Introducing Unlimited Messaging Therapy™, affordable, confidential and anonymous therapy at the touch of a button. Your professional licensed therapist is waiting to chat with you right now, and help you make a real difference in your life. You can message your therapist anytime and anywhere, from your smartphone or the web, 100% safe and secure. Welcome to the wonderful world of therapy, re-invented for how we live today.”
As Professor Sherry Turkle, Director of the MIT Initiative on Technology and Self, explained in the recent Symposium, “On the Body” that took place in New York this past May 7th, “by interacting with machines as if they were embodied with the richness of human experience, not only do we also risk entering into the disembodied realm of the as if, but also we risk treating other humans as if they too were disembodied.” She stated that devices are being tested to provide empathic listening to patients. In this brilliant paper, she traced the slippery slope that consists in going from “it’s better than nothing” to “it’s better than some things” to plainly “it is better”.
She reminded us of the saying about artificial intelligence: if it acts intelligently, it is intelligent. Based on this formula, devices are created to sound less robotic, through a complex combination of voices, like a more sophisticated Siri. They will listen and give emphatic advice to those who consult them. So if it sounds empathic, it is empathic. What will prevent everyone from using it?
She questioned: how can a machine that has not lived give advice about life events?
Maybe some Lacanians would be skeptical of this issue as we don’t give advice, so it should not concern us. But I think we should give it some serious thought. She encouraged therapists and analysts not to give up on the body.
From the Lacanian perspective we have always insisted on the presence of the body as a condition for analysis, phone and internet sessions being tolerated only as an exception to the rule, in very specific cases.
So Body or No Body?
As I wrote this text, I heard that a store had just opened on the most iconic New York City street: 5th Avenue. It is called The Period Shop, and it has everything a woman needs for that particular time of the month: To bring even more joy to your ovaries, the shop offers massages, manicures, ice cream and all proceeds help feed, clothe and provide shelter and support for women in need. (Time Out, New York May 13, 2016)
It seems clear to me that the more we try to get rid of the body the more it returns and perhaps in the most crude, real way. In our disembodied era, the body insists.
What did our last congress on the Speaking Body teach us? It is a mystery, but without the body there is no drive, and without the drive…who are we?