Love recognizes no barriers. It jumps hurdles, leaps fences, penetrates walls to arrive at its destination full of hope — Maya Angelou
These words of the famous feminist icon embody what this simple emotion encapsulates, more so than ever now where people are separated by distances both real and imagined. The question today is whether love remains the same, or has it changed form, shape, and meaning given how digitally-driven the rest of our lives really are.
Humans are emotional creatures. We feel, assimilate and internalize feelings. It is this that has always been pegged as the reason that machines will never be able to overtake us. And yet in the lives, we lead off late, technology is driving many of the ways we reach out to our fellow humans. Whether it is through instant messaging apps like WhatsApp or video calling, using pre-mapping profiles for dating and connections, to sharing proof of love by digital mediums like videos and GIFs, tech is at the forefront of it all. The question, therefore, begs to be answered, are we becoming more distanced because of technology or is it bringing us more closer?
In order to understand love as it presents to us today, we must go back in time to learn its journey through the ages. As deeply personal as the emotion is to us, and instinctive, it also has a history showcased through tangible notes scattered across time. The term ‘love’ might be a cultural innovation, continuously evolving and while the emotion itself continues to manifest in different forms we are seeing how the modes and methods it is delivered in, are changing continuously.
It is said that to trace the course of evolution, one must find traces of it in the past. The earliest manifestation of love can be found in drawings etched into stone in 1775 BC of the marriage between King Zimri-Lim of the ancient city of Mari on the banks of the Euphrates, with Princess Shibtu, of Yamhad. The marriage through drawings showing a union between families not for love, but to foster trade, connections and keep off the war. This understanding of marriage is so unlike what we assume it is today. It may be traumatizing to know that love wasn’t the basis of many famous unions, which we have mistakenly attributed the emotion to. Compare this with a different time in 1812 where John Lambton, the rich Earl of Durham married Harriet, an illegitimate poor woman all for impulsive love over tradition, and feelings over reason.
The change in the meaning of love and relationships through time has been defined by purpose, and the expression by means that were relevant at the time. From songs and poetry used to express love, it moved to letters, books, and phone calls over the last two centuries. With this shift, the meaning of relationships too began to change; from a ‘till death do us part’ commitment to a deeply personal view of the transitory nature of love ‘as long as it meets my needs.’ Thus we see a lot of change across the emotion itself and the way it is perceived by people nowadays.
The question we are faced with today, is whether technology and the digital age will change the emotion of love, intimacy and connection even more? We are texting instead of talking, skype’ing instead of meeting ‘face to face’ and letting emoticons express our feelings. Have we stopped to understand what impact is this having on our relationships?
Gary Chapman, an experienced relationship counselor has spoken of 5 basic languages of love — Affirmative words, Acts of Service, Quality Time, Gifts, and Physical Touch. When looked at closely, all of these have changed and morphed to a more modern form in some way or the other. What is perhaps lacking is humankind’s ability to keep pace with this change, causing more distance, more loneliness, lack of time and connections, and ultimately isolation.
As we negotiate the idea of love in the digital age, there are perhaps three major areas that will decide how much gadgets will impact how we go about it.
WAYS OF EXPRESSIONS — Love used to be all about kisses and hugs and still is. But this also entailed working around obstacles that impeded such interactions with loved ones; time, distance, space. There were wants and longings which could be bridged with very limited means of expression, through letters and telegrams. But these expressions were treasured. New technology has thrown up several different ways of expression; from gamifying apps to customized messaging. It has made expressing love easier, but will this then eventually dilute the expression itself?
COMMUNICATION LANGUAGE — Hugs, kisses, sweet nothings, our books are peppered with love languages that conveyed feelings of one person for another. Even though letters became longer, the phone took over communication across distances, yet the language still remained the same. The Covid pandemic has shown us how touch isn’t a possibility and there could be other ways of communicating; from Instagram’s “weekiversary posts,” to e-greetings that summarise relationships. Will this suffice in the days ahead? Will communication that marked the core of human relationships be curated and styled based on different relationships?
RULES OF INTIMACY — By its very nature love is personal and intimate, and there was a time when it was too personal and not shared with the world. It was believed such feelings were precious, and not to be displayed for all and sundry. Today love is out there, it’s on the emojis of our phone text, the ‘relationship apps’ that tailor speed of personal connections and even curated stories showcased to friends on social media.
Technology has allowed us to own our emotions, look at it dispassionately and weave it into our lives. Does this make love lose its mystery or will there be a better way to manage this transparency, is something we’ll delve into in the next article.
Co-authoring this piece with Charmaine Kenita, on my learnings in love, human behavior, education, technology, future challenges, and mapping the way forward