The Reinvention of Intimacy

“Intimacy without privacy reinvents what intimacy means.”

Sherry Turkle explores this concept among adolescents – one facet of this research seems to suggest that teenagers avoid intimacy in favor of being in control. Buffered by their mobile media, many teens feel that they can control their friendships and their image best by texting, Facebook, IM, and email instead of answering a phone call or having a potentially awkward face-to-face conversation. In fact, Turkle says that for teenagers, what happens on the Internet stays on the Internet. No one will “call you out” (I assume she means in real life) on the truth of what you say online or on Facebook.

At the same time, it seems that people are craving the very intimacy they are losing through technology. Consider the millions of people who log on to confessional web sites, where they can anonymously divulge their most personal secrets. These secrets have the ability to reach “everyone,” yet they are directed at no one. Perhaps because the confessions are not without fear of judgment (others can log in and make comments) users may feel they are being vulnerable. I agree that vulnerability is one part of intimacy, but only a part. To me, these confessional sites reveal desperation for true relationships; and further, the false sense of intimacy perpetuates the myth that technology can facilitate true human connection.

I believe that true intimacy involves vulnerability, mystery – and the ability to surrender and allow for mistakes. Distracted by sights, smells, sounds, we try to articulate our feelings to another person – and we may trip on our words or be betrayed by our body language. We gauge what kind of physical space we will share with another person, and this physical proximity makes a statement.

If we are not held accountable for our words or actions — to our friends on Facebook or to strangers on a confessional site — how can we expect to build trust, the foundation for intimacy? In spite of and because of our human nature we are able to experience moments of connection when someone puts a reassuring hand on our shoulder; we feel the pain of rejection when someone can’t quite meet our gaze; we can even feel true joy simply sitting side by side in silence.

Turkle says that venting our feelings comes to feel like sharing them, which reduces our expectations of people and increases our expectations of what technology can do for us.
Technology has created a society of distracted users who find it difficult to concentrate on one concept for very long. Is technology truncating our emotions as well? Will technology also eclipse our intimacies, reduce deepest feelings to Facebook posts and text messages to be processed and then crossed-off our “to do” lists? People may feel like they’ve accomplished something after posting to a confessional web site or ranting a frustration on Facebook, but the truth is that the difficult psychological work has yet to be done.

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