Thoughts on Ambient Intimacy

Chris Brogan, acting as one of my favorite curators, pointed people towards a great post on Ambient Intimacy by Leisa Reichelt on the Disambiguity blog. This idea implies that tools like twitter create an atmosphere we have have seemingly in depth relationships with a lot of different people we might otherwise merely view as casual acquaintences. Is this good or bad?

I watched a video from this year’s Spring VON, where Steve Garfield spoke about telling his wife that more of his “internet friends” were coming to stay with them, often causing her to roll her eyes. yet he said many of these people have become really great friends in “real” life- but he never would have chanced across them if not for the web.

This struck a nerve with me, because I feel this way all the time. I have all these friends in this small box, where I communicate by voice (sometimes), typing (often) and on rare occassions, video conferencing. I feel like I know some of these people better, in a short period of time, than I know my neighbors. When my family came with me while I went to PodCamp NYC, it was really important to me that they got to meet some of my friends from the “box”. I’m not sure CC, Eric or Julien cared as much as I did, I know it wasn’t as important to my husband to meet my internet friends, but it was really important to me.

Why?

For me, having my family meet the internet people made my life circle complete. It helped my husband put a face to the names I talk about, without it feeling like I am discussing imaginary friends or characters from an elaborate novel or stage play. It made my virtual life real.

I’ve found myself completely comfortable with my virtual friends, and seeing them in person at conferences serves to strengthen a bond that has been largely intellectual up until that point. After all, this is not all that different from those AOL chat rooms, where people fall in love, have virtual affairs, and other kinds of crazy things- there’s a power to meet and connect in an environment where it’s all about who you are, not what you look like. You like and respect people because of connections that go well beyond the “blink” like judgments we make about people we see (or avoid) at the coffee shop.

So oddly enough, for a group of friends I know well online, and have only connected with for relatively short periods in person, I would not hesitate one bit to have many of these people to my home, to visit them while in a different city, or the like. It seems natural. They feel like old friends, so they must be old friends, right? I had no qualms for an instant about picking up an internet friend at the airport and driving them to a conference in Canada, and they trusted me to do the same. Sounds insane in the real world, even dangerous. Yet somehow, this works.

I haven’t totally figured this out yet. Why do my real life safety and privacy rules get thrown out the window in some regards online? Is this like college, where the bar you need to cross to be declared friends is just different? The trust is higher/deeper, yet more fragile?

At the heart of this, it is all about community. Douglas Adams spoke about the Global Village, and indeed, you can now search the globe for connected people sharing similar interests. You no longer have to be the odd person in your town- you can find many others just like you online, and no longer feel alone. And how powerful and compelling it is.

What’s fun to do sometimes is look at the commonalities that so many people in the new media space share. I’ll bet you have a fondness or passing interest in several things on the following list:

  • Science Fiction
  • Star Wars
  • Indiana Jones
  • Comic Books
  • Super hero movies
  • Douglas Adams books- Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
  • Dungeons & Dragons/World of Warcraft/Civilization
  • computers and tech toys
  • There’s a big subset of foodies
  • Science
  • Seth Godin books
  • The Artist’s Way/Marcus Buckingham Books
  • A strong commitment to helping others- a sense of “What can I do for you?” before the question of “What can you do for me?”

These are but a few of the most common threads I’ve noticed in my ‘net friends. Does any of this ring true to you? Do you find the ambient intimacy created by social media a wonderful thing, or merely confusing? Inquiring minds need to know.

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One response to “Thoughts on Ambient Intimacy

  1. Whit! i think about this all the time! In fact… I always say that what I love and hate about twitter is the arguably false sense of intimacy it creates… and yet I don’t care! I love knowing that you are buying trunks for your boys to go to camp, or that Adam is off to Seattle, or that Chris is in a shitty mood…..is it real??? Maybe only time will tell… I do know that I think about you all the time…read “The Dip” because of you … and loved it….feel like a richer more diverese person for the experiences and viewpoints I come across on line…..am positive that I have both met and “met” people I would NEVER otherwise have come into contact with… as I said…. only time will tell!!!!

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