June 6, 2007

Ambient Intimacy

Filed under: writing — jrice @ 9:32 am

A really interesting post on ambient intimacy. Important to Internet studies of any sort is the idea that investment in the practices that continue to make up the Web consist of feeling, affect, or mood (as Ulmer writes). I would extend the writer’s interests in “keeping in touch” and think more broadly regarding investments…still, I’m very interested in such work as a possible (among many possibilities) “why” to Internet practices. That “why” can be phrased as opposition (“why do that?”) or curiosity (“what’s that for?”) or vocationalism (“how will I use that in life”). These types of “whys,” however, do very little to extend our understandings of the Web. A more complex why (like my previous writings on the “what”) is one of investment (and eventually, invention): why we do what we do.

One reason for my interests in such an expansion is to more carefully tease out “intimacy.” These posts pose intimacy as “wanting to be close to others,” which, in fact, may be true with various social apps like Twitter or even a weblog. But I’m unwilling to abandon McLuhan’s important point that technology (the global village) does not necessarily generate a peaceful, intimate situation; instead it produces intense conflict. Being too close can produce high levels of tension.

There’s no reason to fear the question of tension. As Burroughs notes, out of conflict emerges invention. So when the writer defines her term accordingly:

Ambient Intimacy is a term to describe that sense of connectedness that you get from participating in social tools online that allow you to feel as though you are maintaining and, perhaps in fact, increasing your closeness with people in your social network through the messages and content that you share online – be it photographs or text or information about upcoming travel.

We might add that such closeness might feel good (i.e. nice to know you), or it might be confrontational (i.e. a posted comment that declares “you suck”). Both, though, speak to desires and moods (one might actually want to claim that someone sucks; on might enjoy the feeling of telling someone she/he sucks, etc.).

That point, too, might allude to a “why do we do this” type of question: to confront, to antagonize, to egg on. Investment in conflict. Few want to hear that, especially if our pedagogical goals are to make students “better” people or to solve community or cultural problems. The solution is to eradicate conflict, no? But without conflict, you have monotony at best, fascism at worst.

Anyway. No real revelations here. Just some thoughts in response to an interesting post I read this morning….maybe more later.


  1. An interesting post (as always) that seems at least associatively relevant to my reading lately: Of Grammatology. To some degree, what Derrida seems to find compelling about textual work is that it is neither placid nor pacific: there exists in every text (JD might suggest) a fruitful tension between in/out, culture/nature, self/other, present/absent–or just choose whatever binary most appeals to your interests. The tensions itself can become the site for interesting work, as JD’s book–er, text–shows.

    Of course, too, it seems important to consider the way “tension” is often employed discursively–as the state of affairs that leads to disruption or violence: Tension in the Middle East is probably the most common of these. But if we think of how a different discourse employs tension, it picks up a happir connotation. In physics, tension is (sometimes) what binds things together: think of surface tension at the top of a glass of water. . .so perhaps, then, we can think of tension being productive socially: what binds subjects/communities together; or txtually: what holds the units of a text together.

    Comment by Mike — June 6, 2007 @ 5:49 pm

  2. i like “intensity” for “intimacy”. seems to negotiate your concerns, Jeff. i am thinking of Brian Massumi’s “The Autonomy of Affect” and his attempt to define a kind of intensity that accompanies experience of an “image- or expression-event” . . . he is talking about film/tv, but maybe the concept travels to talk about social networking on the web; seems so, for me. cool post.

    Comment by bonnie lenore kyburz — June 10, 2007 @ 11:20 pm

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