Love in the time of smartphones

By Soncirey Mitchell
Reader Staff

“There was a tiny dance of melody in the air, her Seashell was tamped in her ear again and she was listening to far people in far places, her eyes wide and staring at the fathoms of blackness above her in the ceiling.”

— Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451 (1953)

Dystopian novels always leave out how helpful technology is before it destroys humanity. It’s understandable — those stories are meant to teach us about the perils of unchecked advancement — but reality is far muddier, and the good and the bad are packaged together.

Most nights I listen to ASMR videos on YouTube to quiet my mind as I fall asleep. (If you’re unfamiliar, Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response is a tingling sensation along the scalp and spine, triggered, in this case, by visual and auditory stimuli like lights and tapping.)

ASMR helps regulate my sleep schedule and reduce anxiety, but while laying with my headphones on listening to a YouTuber whisper and crinkle tape, I can’t help but feel like Mildred in Fahrenheit 451. Mildred spent her life watching, listening and often participating in immersive, plotless TV shows with characters she called “family.” In Bradbury’s story, her dependence on technology is both the result and cause of her depression.

If it were that simple, TV, film, VR, video games and social media might show signs of dying out. Instead, platforms like TikTok spread mind-numbing videos pushing consumerism and celebrity worship, while also providing an avenue for the free exchange of information, linking individuals with similar goals and helping them enact real change.

For good or ill, technology has redefined intimacy and human connection.

I sometimes listen to the channel Batala’s ASMR, which has a dedicated fanbase that the YouTuber calls her “buttercups.” She begins each video with the words, “Hello my buttercups, my life, my family, my world.”

I find it off-putting.

Such strong terms of endearment should be, in my mind, reserved for close loved ones. Referring to faceless strangers on the internet as “family” waters down the term, calling into question the importance of her actual family and overstepping the distant relationship between YouTuber and viewer.

Then again, who am I to say that her online followers aren’t her loved ones?

Reader Editor Zach Hagadone and I were recently talking about all the personal information we knew about ASMRtists from their videos. They keep their audiences updated on major life events, their emotional state and even the mundane workings of their lives in the same way anyone might chat with a friend over coffee. Viewers respond in kind in the comment sections, announcing everything from the deaths of family members to recent medical issues.

Batala — and nearly every ASMRtist — receives an outpouring of love from viewers thanking her for getting them through such dark times. This intimate relationship is akin to a patient and their therapist or a patron and their bartender, but uniquely requires no in-person or one-on-one connection outside of the artificial group setting.

If terms of endearment or affirmations spoken into a camera can positively impact people’s lives, I can’t safely say that this virtual intimacy is fake. At the same time, the ASMRtist could be replaced by an A.I. generated voice sharing fake life stories and the effect might be the same.

It’s an oversimplification to equate our reality with Bradbury’s dystopia because the technology in Fahrenheit 451 serves no purpose. The falsified intimacy between Mildred and her “family” doesn’t bring her joy and isn’t rooted in any genuine exchange of experiences or emotions.

Even if Batala’s opening declaration is hollow, her comment section proves that her viewers find the words meaningful and comforting. The videos are both a modern form of human connection, and a gateway to isolation that may, as in Fahrenheit 451, supplant the small, face-to-face interactions of everyday life.

In this instance, I can’t tell if technology has crossed the line from helpful to nightmarish, and that makes reality far scarier than fiction.

While we have you ...

... if you appreciate that access to the news, opinion, humor, entertainment and cultural reporting in the Sandpoint Reader is freely available in our print newspaper as well as here on our website, we have a favor to ask. The Reader is locally owned and free of the large corporate, big-money influence that affects so much of the media today. We're supported entirely by our valued advertisers and readers. We're committed to continued free access to our paper and our website here with NO PAYWALL - period. But of course, it does cost money to produce the Reader. If you're a reader who appreciates the value of an independent, local news source, we hope you'll consider a voluntary contribution. You can help support the Reader for as little as $1.

You can contribute at either Paypal or Patreon.

Contribute at Patreon Contribute at Paypal

You may also like...

Close [x]

Want to support independent local journalism?

The Sandpoint Reader is our town's local, independent weekly newspaper. "Independent" means that the Reader is locally owned, in a partnership between Publisher Ben Olson and Keokee Co. Publishing, the media company owned by Chris Bessler that also publishes Sandpoint Magazine and Sandpoint Online. Sandpoint Reader LLC is a completely independent business unit; no big newspaper group or corporate conglomerate or billionaire owner dictates our editorial policy. And we want the news, opinion and lifestyle stories we report to be freely available to all interested readers - so unlike many other newspapers and media websites, we have NO PAYWALL on our website. The Reader relies wholly on the support of our valued advertisers, as well as readers who voluntarily contribute. Want to ensure that local, independent journalism survives in our town? You can help support the Reader for as little as $1.