What Our Bodies Want

Well all sorts of things, naturally: air, water, food, and other items that readily come to mind.  But our body’s desires are not only of the ready made, basically biological variety.  We could also speak of learned desires which, while having an embodied platform, are also culturally or socially conditioned.  These are desires which may emerge when patterns or circuits of action and reward become habitual leading to the formation of desire for the action.  And mostly, I’m intrigued by how our tools and technologies participate in these sorts of desire forming practices.

Here’s a possible illustration.  A few years ago people started noticing what came to be called phantom vibration syndrome.  If you’ve had a cell phone for any amount of time, you’ve probably experienced what you thought was your phone vibrating only to pick it up and realize that, in fact, no call or message had come in.  The vibration was a phantom.  There are a number of explanations for this phenomenon all stemming from how our bodies become attentive to certain stimuli.  Our bodies in a sense are waiting to receive this particular stimuli and sometimes they misinterpret data as a result.  The body/brain jumps the sensory gun as it were.

I want to take this a little bit further and ask about what I’m going to guess is another familiar phenomenon for cell phone users — frequently reaching for the phone for no particular reason, preemptively putting your hand in your pocket to feel your phone, constantly looking over at your phone after you’ve set it prominently before you.  These are not just a matter of feeling a phantom vibration and reaching because you thought you had a message coming in. In other words, these are not reactive or responsive actions.  My suggestion is that these are actions of a body desiring, wanting, hoping for a certain stimuli.

We are embodied creatures, living in a diverse and complex bio-cultural environment throughout which our tools and technologies are intertwined.  Understanding our desires involves exploring our conscious wants; it also means exploring the patterns of our habituated technologically mediated actions and interactions.  My guess is that we’ll find all sorts of habituated desires that float just below the level of our conscious awareness and yet impact our actions and thoughts in countless, barely discernible ways.

Our tools don’t only help us satisfy our wants and desires, they are also implicated in the formation and development of those wants.

2 thoughts on “What Our Bodies Want

  1. Actually, my nervous pocket-checks are less a desire for stimulation and more one for security: I’m often paranoid that I’ve dropped or left behind my phone, and if the weight balance seems off in my pockets, I have to do a quick contents check to make sure it’s not the apocalypse.

    My most common phantom vibrations occur while driving: the vibrations of the engine or road surface travel through the car to my seated body. If my pocketed phone rests against my leg and the seat of the car, the vibrations carry to it differently, and I swear I have a call coming in.

    Ah…the joys of physics mixing with the Pavlovian training of modern technologies.

    1. Chris,

      Nice example, another one I think a lot of people would readily relate to. Just came across some interesting material in Deleuze and Guattari that would blend in well with the desire/technology matrix … of course, what I’m really doing is procrastinating as there is a prospectus and more to be done!

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