Intimacy vs Outimacy

I’ve been taking part in discussing ‘ambient intimacy’ over on the disambiguity blog.

Personally, I think the phrase is oxymoronic. It doesn’t matter what secrets you shout from the roof, or who is listening, the fact that you’re shouting from the rooftop means that you’re not part of an intimate exchange. The value of what you say doesn’t lie simply in the information you transfer, but also in the wider context. If you only tell one person your real name, that can be enormously intimate. If you tell everyone, it means little. Intimacy is about showing and building trust beyond normal levels. For intimate exchanges, the level of privilege of the information can often be at least as important as the information itself.

I believe that for every relationship there is an appropriate level of intimacy, and more than is appropriate can be damaging, just as it is damaging to the relationship for there to be less intimacy than is appropriate.

Anyway, here’re my comments, from that page, complete with response.

Comment 102, written by: kyb

It’s not intimacy though. Intimacy can never be broadcast by its nature. Intimacy is about more than the knowing of details. It requires two way, privileged communication.

It may be that things like twitter encourage intimacy because it’s easier to enter into intimate exchanges with those you keep up with, but we shouldn’t mistake the two.

Comment 103, written by leisa.reichelt

hey kyb,

I can kind of see where you’re coming from here but I see things a little differently. For me, Twitter – for example – is not really ‘broadcast’ – even though my Tweets are public, I don’t think of them as going out to a vast and faceless audience, rather I think of the collection of individuals with whom I regularly share communications using this medium and am communicating to them, usually as a group, occasionally as individuals.

Secondly, I think of ambient intimacy as just one type of intimacy. It’s certainly not a substitute for all the other types of more direct and in-person intimacy (at least, it is not for me and I would hope not for anyone else). I do know that certainly my experience and the experience of many others that I’ve spoken to is that tools like Twitter and Flickr and Facebook and many others *do* create a experience of intimacy where, without these tools, there would almost certainly be none.

It doesn’t seem to be a universal experience, but certainly significant enough to be acknowledged.

Comment 104, written by kyb


Thanks for the reply. As I understand intimacy, its very nature requires priviledged communication. If you talk about ‘intimate surroundings’ you’re talking about surroundings that encourage priviledged communication. If you say ‘getting intimate’, you mean that the people you’re talking about are priviledging each other in their communication. An ‘intimate group’ is a small group of people with a special bond. It’s this specialness that is important in the concept of intimacy.

Another important part of intimacy is not just that priviledged information is received, but that the reaction to its reception is part of the experience of intimacy. You can’t have an intimate conversation with someone who is watching the tv at the same time. A single email cannot convey intimacy although an email exchange can. Intimacy is two way, and most naturally (although not exclusively) synchronous.

Any broadcast that can be received by others (no matter who it’s intended audience) is by my definition not intimate. If someone who doesn’t know you at all can take part in the priviledged communication channel, then it’s not priviledged anymore, and therefore the transmission and reception of the information means less. I think that the extent to which it feels intimate is actually an illusion of false intimacy, and in some cases may even be harmful to the relationship.

I don’t want to suggest that there is therefore no value in things like twitter, im and all the other paraphenalia of social networking. It can obviously have enormous benefit, but it is almost direct opposition to the way I understand intimacy.

I’d even go so far as to call it outimacy.

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