You can’t touch this. Turns out that doesn’t matter.
What is it that makes a human interaction pleasurable? What are the emotional rewards of romance and friendship?
The physical intimacy of romance certainly plays a big part in why we interact with each other. We are wired to like it, after all, and our bodies reward us with pleasant neurochemicals like dopamine, serotonin and oxytocin when we physically interact with someone.
But the moment of touch does not capture the immense depth of an interpersonal romance. What about the butterflies of waiting for three dots to resolve Schroedinger’s flirtation…
What about the pleasure of seeing happiness and satisfaction on your partner’s or friend’s face? The excitement of having their attention, being in their sensible world (I personally find the Swedish word sinnesvärld, or world of the mind, more evocative), and having them in ours, is just as much a part of any relationship as its physical component.
When we have a friend in our sinnesvärld (pronounced sin-ness-vaird) our consciousness is expanded, our world is bigger, and we feel safer. Consider how much less terrifying a scary movie is when you are with a friend. The sensation of companionship is a powerful remedy for all kinds of stresses and ailments of the soul.
I would even go so far as to say that if you meditate on it, and mindfully turn your awareness onto any present moment, you will find that you are always in a binary state of either being alone in your own mind, or in that present moment with someone else, part of a “we”.
It’s not the physical presence of other people that generates the we. We have all experienced feeling alone at a party, or in a classroom, or at the dinner table with family.
Having someone else in your consciousness, in what we could call your room, fundamentally transforms many of your experiences. Being in the same room as someone else, experiencing a moment together with someone in a connected sinnesvärld, is one of the most foundational pleasures that human interaction provides us.
As most of you can attest, physical proximity is not a prerequisite for sharing a room. No matter if you grew up on the Internet, or moved in during the pandemic, you’re likely to have experienced genuine moments of human connectedness online.
In fact, it turns out that the interaction can be entirely one-sided and still satisfy many socio-emotional needs. The incredible rise of parasocial media has taken the world by surprise, but shows us how parasocial and one-sided interactions still create some emotional value for consumers, enough so that a company like OnlyFans seemingly make billions selling something that is free.
To quote a brilliant line from my friend Johan Casspe:
“OnlyFans managed to pass the platform cold start problem of supply and demand in a seemingly impossible environment, selling a service most people would say they don’t want to provide, to a market with free supply of it already. That’s why the product that people pay for on OF is not porn, but rather something different, like the sense of community, simping, imaginative friendship.”
I explored the OnlyFans phenomenon, livestreamers and parasocial interactions more in-depth in an earlier post, and I think there’s a lot to learn from the emergence of this trend.
Many human social needs can be satisfied remotely, digitally, through simulated companionship. I call it intrapersonal needs gratification, or autosatiation, and I think it will be one of the defining genres of media in the metaverse era.
But we don’t even have to limit ourselves to human interaction, remote or not, to satisfy our socio-emotional needs. We’ve kept animal companions for thousands of years, and any pet owner or horseback rider will swear by the deep emotional bonds they form with their companions.
But that’s still not the final frontier of companionship! Many of us have had parasocial experiences with fictitious characters in media, returning to a beloved book or anime for the sense of companionship and love we feel for the characters we consume.
The relationships we form with characters and people we can’t touch are real, in the sense that they truly gratify us. We can’t touch them, but it doesn’t matter.
This leaves us with an understanding that the socio-emotional needs of humans can be satisfied both remotely and by non-humans, even by fictitious entities.
Social satisfaction does not need not be physical, it need not be human, and it need not be from physically real entities.
And what about ASMR, the incredible media category that helps simulate the sensation of being touched in the audience? The trick is almost magical, supernatural, allowing a single person to create a physical sensation in millions of people remotely and asynchronously.
It stands to reason that a combination of any or all of these would still be able to provide genuine value to us. If we can feel love for a fictitious character, and feel loved without the need for proximity, how long until we form deep relationships with virtual pets?
Not long at all. Matterless is building virtual companions embodied in a social augmented reality world, and we hope to bring the joys of companionship and love to more people.
- Nils Pihl, founder of Matterless Studios
About Matterless Studios
Digital life. Real connections. True Affection.
Matterless Studios is an augmented reality studio building the future of digital relationships, creating outlets for human love, nurture, and creativity. For more information visit www.matterless.com, join the Discord, or follow us on Twitter or here on Medium.