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Sending naked photographs of oneself to another person may set the stage for big trouble in one's teenage years or public embarrassment in adulthood, but it does raise one psychological question: What is the precise psychological fuel for taking naked photos of oneself, to begin with?
What’s “in it” for the person who sends the images?
I think the answer reveals some of the reasons why technology and eroticism seem inextricably woven together.
First, human beings can actually hold in their minds visual representations of themselves in cyberspace. We can imagine ourselves transported from one electronic device to another and can imagine the effect we will have on others who “receive us” on the other end. This means that neither the lens of the camera, nor the smart phone, nor computer we use to transmit the photos, nor the miles (thousands of them, potentially) between us and those receiving the photos impinges on our confidence that our physical presence and ability to seduce can be transported by technology.
This fact has important implications for the future, because it testifies to our willingness to “rely on” technology to convey our intimacies, when pouring ourselves into technology in that way may or may not be wise.
Second, we seem to understand that physical nakedness can actually close the distance between two people separated by technology and geography. In our increasingly anonymous, anti-reality, technology-is-everything culture, using a smart phone or laptop to send naked photos could feel like an insurance policy against being sterilized and dehumanized by the very devices being used to create and transmit the images. Naked photos flying through cyberspace then become missiles aimed at the Brave New World of voice mail and touch screens (oxymoron) and Prozac.
It is no accident that the information age has ushered in a new age of promiscuity; people are panicked that their souls are under siege. They are doing “bodily” things to anchor themselves—piercing themselves, tattooing themselves, taking pictures of themselves naked, having more sex and taking more drugs.
Third, taking and sending naked photos of oneself can actually make people feel closer to one another—in the same way that a “trust fall” does. A “trust fall” is when one person stands behind another, and the person in front falls backwards, trusting that he or she will be caught. It’s exhilarating because it relies completely on someone else to avert disaster. For the moments when one is falling, the sense of helplessness is intoxicating. So it is, too, with the sending of one’s naked photos through cyberspace. A huge, intoxicating (often misplaced) element of trust is involved that the recipient will keep them private.
All of which adds up to this: People will resist having their emotions reduced to smart icons and their lives reduced to Facebook profiles. Sex and nakedness is a handy (but very incomplete) remedy. And, if you haven’t noticed, cameras are everywhere in these days of vanishing personhood.
Dr. Keith Ablow is a psychiatrist and member of the Fox News Medical A-Team. He is a New York Times best-selling author, and co-author, with Glenn Beck, of the upcoming book "The 7:Seven Wonders that Will Change Your Life." Dr. Ablow can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.