Friday, December 30, 2011

Volume 3 Issue 52: Two-Cent Economics

Sexless Love?

Surely an interesting notion. While it appears easy to dismiss and laughed at, the notion of men having relationships with virtual girlfriends, it is also important to remember the following observations made by very smart people:
Then president and CEO of Digital Equipment Corporation Kenneth Olson at the annual convention of the World Future Society in 1977: "There is no reason for any individual to have a computer in their home."  
Years earlier, Thomas Watson, Sr. (then CEO of IBM) estimated that the worldwide market for personal computers was fewer than ten.
And the rest, is history. The motivation for today's post is the this article:
In the most recent government study, published at the end of last month, the percentage of unmarried men spiked 9.2 points from five years ago. More telling: 61% of those unwed men reported not having a girlfriend, and 45% said they couldn't care less about finding one.

Why the generational malaise and indifference to sex? Theories abound. The most provocative to me, a Japanese-American and longtime Tokyo resident, is that Japanese women have become stronger socially and economically at the very same time that Japanese men have become more mole-ish and fully absorbed in virtual worlds, satiated by the very technological wizardry their forebears foisted upon them, and even preferring it to reality. "I don't like real women," one bloke superciliously sniffed on Japan's 2channel, the world's largest and most active internet bulletin board site. "They're too picky nowadays. I'd much rather have a virtual girlfriend."

Virtual girlfriends became a sensation last summer, when Japanese game-maker Konami released its second-generation of its popular Love Plus, called, aptly, Love Plus +, for the Nintendo DS gaming system. Konami skillfully arranged for an otherwise deadbeat beach resort town called Atami to host a Love Plus + holiday weekend. Players were invited to tote their virtual girlfriends, via the gaming console, to the actual resort town to cavort for a weekend in romantic bliss. The promotion was absurdly successful, with local resort operators reporting that it was their best weekend in decades.
As I said, it is easy to scoff at the idea of a real person being replaced by a virtual personality. I mean, the common arguments would include, "How will we derive emotional satisfaction?". I won't deny that human companionship is a unique experience presently. The desire for human contact is probably one that is built into our DNA for the very simple reason of maintaining our species. Nonetheless, that is not an emotional notion, but an instinctive one.

Why exactly do we need love from a human being? How is that different from love from a virtual being? You may say that a virtual being does not know what love is. But this begs the question, do we ourselves know what love is? Based on anecdotal experience, we very often hear our friends complain about their partners (wife, girlfriend, boyfriend, husband). That is an indication of mismatched expectations and the lack of acceptance of one's shortcomings. We have a tendency to want we can't have. This is our natural instinct. It is then no surprise that couples tend to become dissatisfied with each after long periods of time (some longer than others).

Let us take the virtual girlfriend example to the extreme. As with all thingamabobs and gadgets these days, they are fully upgradable and at an amazingly scary pace. A new tablet or smartphone becomes out of date six months down the road. What about a virtual girlfriend? Our tastes and preferences may differ from day to day, just like how we prefer a change in ice-cream flavors every once in a while even though our favorite is chocolate ice-cream. I am not so dumb to suggest this as a reason to pursue extra-marital affairs, but I am pointing out the fact that a customizable girlfriend has her advantages.

There is not even the need to do the emotional tango of tit for tat that usually happens with a real girlfriend. A typical scenario would be a romantic evening with roses and a string quartet and whatnot followed by a gentle request that could possibly turn the whole night into a gigantic nightmare because of a poorly worded sentence (i.e. "Honey, can I not take you out to shopping next week?" vs "Honey, would it be OK if we go out shopping the following week?"). While the first question may also contain the intention to postpone the shopping weekend, the poorly constructed sentence could potentially lead to a disaster. All the effort with the roses and the romantic evening is completely forgotten.

If only this was a virtual girlfriend. Not only will the evening be pleasing, but I am fairly certain that the virtual girlfriend would not retaliate to a poorly worded question. In fact, the experience of making a supposedly harmless request is made infinitely more pleasant without the fear of being rejected. All the romantic gestures and roses and string quartet is an added bonus to please the person you love. It should be seen as a genuine gesture to make the person you love happy to soften the blow of the potential bad news that you are about to deliver. Yet, the constant rejection that many people experience has transformed this situation into a case of bribery. In some cases, the girlfriend would even accuse the boyfriend of trying to "buy" her approval.

Is it a wonder if men resort to virtual girlfriends if they had to endure such an emotional roller coaster of a partner? For the pure romantic, they would claim that such an emotional roller coaster is part of the fun and surely, there is very little or no logical reason that can defend such an argument. But then again, love defies logic.

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