“Foucault makes it quite clear that the invention of madness as a disease is in fact nothing less than a peculiar disease of our civilization. We choose to conjure up with this disease in order to evade a certain moment of our existence – the moment of disturbance, of penetrating vision into the depth of ourselves, that we prefer to externalize into others. Others are elected to live out the chaos that we refuse to confront in ourselves. By this means we escape a certain anxiety, but only at a price that is as immense as it is unrecognized.” (Cooper, 1967, p viii)
In today’s world of virtual communication, social networks play a fundamental role in inter-personal relationships. It would not be an exaggeration if we mention that the so-called ‘virtual communities’ allocate most of the hours in our daily social life to itself, even more than actual face to face interactions. This new form of communication which relies on new technical achievements of mankind, has affected the human culture in a new form of civilization. Postman criticised man’s indulgence in relying on new technologies since such dependence and attachment destroy human culture (Postman, 1992). As an example of such dependence to technology, one can consider our reliance on using the internet and cyberspace to communicate with the people who are known or even unknown to us. As can be noticed not only the form of relating to others has differed, the cyber-culture can be considered as a part of our contemporary culture which has been introduced to human culture after the invention of new technology of communication. For instance, the custom of cyber-greeting, making cyber-comments, showing cyber-sympathy or in general cyber emotional exchanging and even cyber-identity, they all obey the new cyber-cultural and cyber-traditional rules. Has the relationship between subjects in a new society of virtuality and no-distance space (Zizek, 2004) brought the happiness which man was seeking for? Has man become the beneficiary of his own creation of a new world? Is he doomed to suffer from his new achievement which has brought him intrusion of others or on the contrary, has it modified or improved the quality of his relationships in this era of instant and continuous communication? Why do social networks in cyberspace have such impact on communication in modern society while bearing a new type of civilization in itself? Why is it that other human attainments in the modern world such as telegraph, telephone, telex, fax etc have not influenced the subject’s social life as broadly as cyberspace? Although these inventions all have similar advantages and disadvantages to man’s life, living in the era of cyber- social networks has introduced a new and quite distinctive form of social life to the subject. Since psychoanalysis has altered the concept of subjectivity, particularly in the culture of western societies (Parker, 1997), the dimensions of this new form of society (cyberspace) and furthermore the new type of the subject relationships to others in cyberspace can be evaluated by means of psychoanalytic concepts.
In 1927, Freud’s definition of civilization was as a status of man which is distinguishable from the status of the rest of animals. He considered it to include human knowledge and his ability to get control over nature in order to satisfy his own needs. On the other hand, according to Freud, all the rules and laws which regulate man’s relationships with others are part of a human being’s civilization (Freud, 1927). Furthermore, in ‘Civilization and its discontents’, what Freud provides us as a concept of civilization is a sum of human attainments and rules which protects him against nature while adjusting his reciprocal relations to other human beings (Freud, 1930). Although civilization of mankind according to Freud has brought a protection against nature and also has offered a way for him to benefit from his relations to others, man suffers from his civilization and the culture which it brings with. Freud assumed two reasons for the human discontents of his civilization; firstly, although the civilization was supposed to facilitate life for man by offering new technological achievements and new tools, human beings have remained unsatisfied since new social issues have been arisen from utilising these new technologies. Secondly, Freud referred to the relationship between people which was considered to be regulated and improved by civilization but on the contrary, civilization has provided man with a life without freedom as he experienced individually in the absence of others. In fact, civilization has acted as a double-edge sword (Freud, 1930).
Although Freud postulated that civilization represses human being’s instinctual needs, this hypothesis of Freud was challenged by Herbert Marcuse in mid 1950s, who believed that people could build up a new type of society which would be less repressive to the human instincts: “… cultural inhibition would accrue to the strength of Eros. Moreover, work in civilization is itself to a great extent social utilization of aggressive impulses and is thus work in the service of Eros. An adequate discussion of these problems presupposes that the theory of the instincts is freed from its exclusive orientation on the performance principle, that the image of non-repressive civilization (which the very achievements of the performance principle suggest) is examined as to its substance.” (Marcuse, 1955, p 84) On the other hand, from a Lacanian perspective, repression happens to the subject once he uses language. Lacan believes what is repressed is in fact, the signifier:
“Personally, I have never looked at a baby and had the sense that there was no outside world for him. It is plain to see that a baby looks at nothing but , that it excites him, and that is the case precisely to the extent that he does not yet speak. From the moment he begins to speak, from that exact moment onward and not before, I can understand that there is [such a thing as] repression.” (Lacan, 1972-3, p 56)
As can be seen, Lacan in contrast to what Freud or Marcuse believed, conceives civilization as a result of repression which happens for the subject individually, and not as a result of civilization. The issue of discontent or contentment in a repressive (from a Freudian view point), a non-repressive civilization (Marcusian assumption) or a civilization resulting from a repression which has already happened internally to subjects (Lacanian perspective), can be discussed in cyberspace as a virtual society. Probably Freud could not imagine someday that not only the concept of civilization would differ at the end of the twentieth century by the introduction of the new era of information technologies and virtual communications, the contentment or discontent brought to the subject by this virtual civilization would remain a controversial and more complicated issue rather than what Freud criticised about in the beginning of the twentieth century. If we consider the online social networks as a society, a well structured society, then we probably can assume that this virtual society similar to the Lacan’s notion of structured unconscious by the language, it is structured by a language, the language of ‘zeros’ and ‘ones’.
“You see that by still preserving this “like” (comme), I am staying within the bounds of what I put forward when I say that the unconscious is structured like a language. I say like so as not to say-and I come back to this all the time-that the unconscious is structured by a language.” (Lacan, 1972-3, p 48)
Apparently cyber world is founded by an ocean of numerous ‘zeros’ and ‘ones’, whereas the screen shows us other signifiers in this virtual world. The cyber signifiers include all the software which offer the facilities to subjects; from providing ample sources of information, news, leisure, education, political campaigns, marketing, advertisement, investment, gambling, cinema to cyber communication through social networks such as linked In, Twitter and Facebook, the most popular one. The everyday interactions in cyber social networks sometimes go so far that the boundary between reality (Symbolic order) and virtuality (Real order) is not recognisable. In fact, Real is what cannot be symbolised in reality or in other words, what cannot be presented in the real world. Real is the state which can be experienced once there are cuts in Symbolic order. According to Lacan, when we are living in the Symbolic order, this is the gaze of the Other (as the objet petit a) which helps the subject to realise between real (the actual reality) and Real (Lacan, 1964). In his seminar XI, Lacan considers the gaze as “the form of a strange contingency, symbolic of what we find on the horizon, as the thrust of our experience, namely, the lack that constitutes castration anxiety.” (Lacan, 1964, pp 72-73) Moreover, he explains what in the subject’s relation to things “slips, passes, is transmitted, from stage to stage, and is always to some degree eluded in it” is called the gaze (Lacan 1964, p 73). The gaze as objet petit a is the gaze which breaks out the Real for the subject in Symbolic order. In other words, the gaze causes the subject to desire: “The secret of this picture (Holbein’s picture) is given at the moment when, moving slightly away, little by little to the left, then turning around, we see what the magical floating object signifies. It reflects our own nothingness, in the figure of the death’s head. It is a use, therefore, of the geometrical dimension of vision in order to capture the subject, an obvious relation with desire which, nevertheless, remains enigmatic.” (Lacan, 1964, p 92) While we are surfing in cyberspace, we are experiencing a Real world within an actual real world where we live in. In the Real world of cyberspace, similar to the real world, the gaze of the Other exists. In fact, the act of ‘login’ and ‘logout’ (Parker, 2007a, p 74) can be considered as the cyber gaze of the Other which illustrates the boundary of cyberspace (the Real) from the real world (the Symbolic). As a matter of fact, cyberspace is a Real society existing within the real society while resembling a ‘dream space’ (Parker, 2007a, p 74). In this way, subjects know very well that communication via cyberspace is not an unreal or hallucinatory form of communication. In other words, communication in cyberspace which bears a frame of Real in itself is supposed by the subject to be real at the same time: “be caught in the gaze of cyberspace is to be subject to forms of identification and interpellation that only operate insofar as we know that we are subjects surfing cyberspace,” (Parker, 2007a, p 74).
Through the process of cyber civilization, not only the culture of human communication (intimacy, romance, friendship) and social behaviour have altered but the culture of other aspects of a society have undergone changes. Generally speaking, the cultures of politics and economy are the examples of such vicissitudes through civilization in human history. More precisely, in the aftermath of ICTs (Information and Communication Technologies) introduction to the era of globalisation, the concept of politics and economy are not any more what they used to stand for in traditional society, the society before ICTs introduction. In the political field, from cyber campaigns to cyber anti- government protests, they all warn to politicians of the twenty first century to get familiar with cyberspace, a virtual political space. Since the delivery of the news has a fundamental role in ground play of politicians and those who are involved in political activities such as journalists, critics and so on, cyberspace can be considered a limitless, low cost, instant and even a potentially scandalous space for this purpose. In today’s world, the information (as a sort of knowledge) plays a key role to gain both political and economical power. Referring to Lacan’s notion of knowledge which indicates that lack of jouissance acts as an engine to produce knowledge by the subject (Lacan, 1972-3), people craving for jouissance cannot stop searching for more jouissance than they fantasize about. In fact, through attempting to have more pleasure, knowledge has been obtained: “The discordance between knowledge and being is my subject. One can also say, notwithstanding, that there isn’t any discordance regarding what still (encore) – according to my title this year – directs the game. We are still (encore) caught up in the insufficiency of knowledge. It is what directs the game of encore – not that by knowing more about it, it would direct us better, but perhaps there would be better jouissance, agreement between jouissance and its end. Now, the end of jouissance – as everything Freud articulates about what he unadvisedly calls “partial drives” teaches us – the end of jouissance does not coincide with (est a cote de) what it leads to, namely, the fact that we reproduce.” (Lacan, 1972-3, p 120) In this way, one can assume once man felt dissatisfied from his real society to offer him more pleasure, he came up with the invention of cyberspace as a virtual space for exchanging and even producing more knowledge to be more master in his new world with finding more satisfaction but never the whole of it. The knowledge produced by new virtual world brings jouissance; the incomplete jouissance which produces knowledge (information) and eventually makes the ICTs go on and on. The continuity of new knowledge and information introduces to human society new tools and ways; the new ways of being politician, economist, scientist, philosopher and etc. Being in search of the ‘Other jouissance’ (Fink, 2002, p 36) leads to a deeper plunge into cyberspace, a space of ample information.
Now after providing a structural approach to cyber civilization, the issue of the subject’s contentment or discontent of cyber civilization will be elaborated from Lacanian psychoanalytic perspective. Since the subject’s satisfaction or dissatisfaction of his civilization arises primarily from his relationships with other subjects in a society, in the following paragraphs by providing two examples of cyber interactions, the cyberspace will be considered as a terrain which has the potential to offer its users a satisfactory or a dissatisfactory relationships similar to what the subject experiences in the non virtual society.
In a paper of 2005, the infidelity in cyberspace versus offline unfaithfulness was investigated in more than two hundred participants. The outcome proved that a majority of participants considered online infidelity as painful as offline one. Akin to offline unfaithfulness, the reaction of people was aggression and sadness. In other words, they have taken cyber infidelity as serious as the so-called real one (Whitty, 2005), although the form of representation of the subjects is quite different in cyber-cheating from cheating in real life and furthermore, the physical sexual relationship does not exist in online form of infidelity. If we consider Lacan’s notion of courtly love or a romance without sexual relationship, the answer of such riddle will be clarified. Lacan believed courtly love is: “ a highly refined way of making up for (suppléer à) the absence of the sexual relationship, by feigning that we are the ones who erect an obstacle thereto. It is truly the most amazing thing that has ever been attempted. But how can one denounce the fake? Rather than dwelling on the paradox of why courtly love appeared during the feudal era, materialists should see there in a magnificent occasion to show, on the contrary, how it is rooted in the discourse of loyalty (fealiu), of fidelity to the person. In the final analysis, the “person” always has to do with the master’s discourse. Courtly love is, for man – in relation to whom the lady is entirely, and in the most servile sense of the word, a subject – the only way to elegantly pull off the absence of the sexual relationship.” (Lacan, 1972-3, p 69) According to Lacan courtly love is not accessible through having a sexual relationship and on the contrary, is a way for a man, in encountering with a very idealised woman or in Lacan words: ‘entirely a subject’ (Lacan, 1972-3, p 69) to resist and succeed when there is no direct relation between male and female sex position. In other words, subjects relate to what their partner is not relating to in a mutual relationship. In fact, the male subject relates to the object petit a on the female side and does not have a direct relation to the phallus which the female subject relates to on the male side. On the other hand, the female subject does not relate to the object petit a on her side directly and instead she relates to the phallus on the male side, the phallus which the male subject is not satisfied about (Lacan, 1972-3). Therefore, what is at stake in courtly love is not the presence of body. In other words, finding courtly love through sexual relationship is impossible or an illusion. Since the position of men and women sex, according to Lacan, is different, love is a compensating way for this dissymmetry positions. As can be seen in courtly love a very idealised image of a woman causes the desire of the subject (objet petit a) when a harmonious sexual relation does not exist or in other words, the woman for the man is not a subject but an object (objet petit a) which causes man’s desire. As such, the online and offline infidelity are not different. In fact, the survey of 2005 shows us what has brought the female subject agony and pain, is not the actual act of sexual intercourse between her partner and another woman but the pain and suffering was due to the realization of the desire of her partner for another woman, in other words, the subject suffers from realizing that she is not desired by the Other or in other words, she is not the object causing the Other’s desire anymore.
In another paper of 2003, offline versus online flirting has been compared in order to regard whether or not cyberspace can potentially act as a real playground for such purposes (Whitty & Carr, 2003). In this survey, the main criterion which distinguishes online flirting from offline flirting is the presence of the body and the different forms of presentation of physical attraction or in other words, are the verbal and non-verbal representatives they mutually offer (Whitty & Carr, 2003, p 874). From Winicottian concepts, Whitty and Carr consider cyberspace as an intermediate space (Winnicott, 1971). Contrary to the idea of Whitty and Carr, Civin argues that all the blankets and dolls were not considered by Winnicott as transitional objects. He believes that the cyberspace is not a transitional space and even he asserts that cyberspace is intrusive and brings the users more anxiety: “The computer system seems a far cry (in all meaning) from the teddy bear or favourite blanket, and the breach between the cyber system and the transitional or potential looms unnegotiably vast.” (Civin, 2000, p 51) According to the above conceptualizations of cyberspace as being or not being a transitional space, it can be said although cyberspace can potentially acts as a transitional space in some cases of acquaintances for some subjects, it cannot be considered as a way to reduce the anxiety of new relationship or in general, having social interactions for everyone. In other words, cyberspace can acts as a transitional space for some subjects who have problem with starting a new relationship in face to face interactions, therefore they initially commence their relationship online and then continue to experience face to face relationship.
As can be seen in the above examples, cyber society as a virtual space for experiencing inter-personal relationships, such as a romantic relationship or a friendship, has acted in a similar way as the real society. In other words, although the Signifiers presenting a subject to another Signifiers (Lacan, 1964) are different in cyberspace from the real society, the concept of the inter-personal relationships and furthermore, the contentment or discontent arisen from the subject’s relationships in cyber society can be considered to be similar to non virtual society .
In conclusion it can be said that, although cyberspace is not a utopian virtual civilization, it has facilitated communication between subjects while providing them both pleasant and unpleasant encounters with new forms of relating to others. Introducing new sources of information and technologies has altered many aspects of subjects’ social life. Cyberspace is considered as a virtual society which supplies its users with an adventure in the era of twenty first century, the era of cybers with many satisfactory and dissatisfactory dimensions. A subject may find cyberspace as an easier way to commence a relationship due to shyness, low self-esteem or social phobia, since they feel more secured and feel less anxiety, while another subject prefers face to face form of communication as he may find cyber interactions less real and even anxiety inducer. In online communication, due to the structure of some social networks, privacy of the subject can be invaded by others and eventually leads to the subject’s discontent. As such, cyberspace can be effective as a transitional space in commencing a relationship for some subjects as far as it has not acted as an intrusive or anxiety inducer space. Putting into Lacanian words, a subject may choose to touch the Real via Imaginary order, whereas another subject experiences the unbearable Real via Symbolic order. In fact, the subject who choose purely cyberspace to communicate with other subjects is encountering with the anxiety of commencing a new relationship with others (Real) via Imaginary order, since he has been fixed in the seduction of cyberspace which has offered its users many facilities to have more control on the self-representation to initiate a relationship. Moreover, in cyberspace many factors which can influence on a dual relationship such as facial expressions and environmental effects have been omitted in comparing with face to face communication. The symbols used in online communication as signifiers have fixed meaning (Imaginary), while in face to face communications, according to the situation in which a relationship has been shaped and experienced, subjects relate to each other by using signifiers which do not have fixed meanings (Symbolic). On the contrary, in face to face interactions, the subject experiences the anxiety of a new relationship (Real) while is introduced by signifiers to another signifiers provided by another subject.