Digital Intimacy

Now that I’ve drastically re-branded as a Serious Blogger, I feel an apprehension towards keeping up with this page. I’m not the most consistent person for a plethora of reasons that will stay between me, my therapist and occasionally my twitter followers. I purposefully didn’t put much thought behind the URL and layout of this website because I didn’t want to jinx it. My gut reaction is always to spend an obscene amount of time gathering the most information before opening my big mouth. Ultimately, I give up halfway through researching because I don’t feel qualified. “How long is it appropriate to stew on a topic before unleashing it?” Is a question I ask myself constantly. I could blame all of this on being an Aries sun but I won’t. Trusting my own knowledge & believing in my own skill are some things I’m working on. The fact that I’m back again after my last post is personally a Big Deal.

I know that prefacing my blog posts with talking about blogging has the same energy as amateur chefs telling 100k word stories about their grandmother’s hands before finally leaking their average chicken soup recipe. But much like these people, having a blog has emboldened me to reach previously incomprehensible levels of audacity. Joking aside, I think discussing the process and my thoughts behind the process are equally as important as the outcome, if not more so at times. Because the process is me, like you, shouting into the fucking cyber-void and praying for someone else to reach through the wires– to say “it’s going to be okay” and hold me.

Word Art by me

The Digital Archive

At the end of my last post, I briefly explained the term “digital intimacy” in context. Particularly in regards to the vast amount of personal details contained within the phone camera roll. Like a diary but More and Instant. Our Online language has given more depth to simplicity. Forced users to adapt to a more condensed form of conversation. Why send a paragraph when all you really need to convey your message is: “yikes.” Memes are a perfect example of this tacit language in action. Below are a few memes I created that I either posted on twitter or, because I thought they were too revealing or was afraid of who would see, kept in the cloud.

Made when I was feeling lonely.
Made when I was going through a really difficult breakup from an extremely emotionally enmeshed relationship.
Made when I wanted attention.
Made when I was feeling sad.
Made when I was trying to find language to explain why I am the way I am.
Made when, well, you know when I made this.

After seeing these images, do you feel closer to me? If yes, why? Is it a result of my brave self-disclosure alone or because you can relate to what I disclosed? Is the intimacy between us created only through your ability to project yourself onto these images? All of this is rhetorical and these are only a few memes. Some of these images, like the astrology meme, have connections to a niche Online language particular to queer circles which I could extrapolate into so many individual posts but I digress.

Imagine thousands of memes like these just chilling on my camera roll. Now add all of the screenshots of text messages, articles, google searches, safari tabs, music I listened to that day, failed selfies, nudes, the sunset, some dogs I saw, my friends, my family, my crush, some stock photos I plan to meme and other pixelated ephemera that I’m so dearly hoarding. All of them organized by date like the internet vomited a personalized chaos scrapbook. On second thought, please don’t think about this. My anxiety is ratcheting up with the knowledge that I’m curating a literal digital archive of my psyche and storing it on my phone like it’s no big deal.

It only took me a few minutes to find these screenshots of Safari tabs in my camera roll. Each tab corresponds to a particular thought or clusters of thoughts while each whole image creates jarring juxtaposition between concepts that are innocuous on their own but together seem catastrophic. Quarter-life crisis and croc boots? Was I okay????

Contributing to the Intimate Isolation Matrix AKA Jacking-into Online

The creation and dissemination of these images is one method of cultivating digital intimacy. If the Online Void had walls and those walls could talk they would probably do so in oversharing meme-format. From this method of disclosure, you create an imperfect concept of me in your head based on your own bias lived-experience that you filter my content through. You have your own content that I filter through my own bias lived-experience from which I have an imperfect image of you. In psychological terms, we adapt new experiences to existing schemas. Doing this online however, is even more tacit and difficult to break down into their subsequent parts. There are unspoken rules that deem online users safe or not solely through frequency of being Online–Social (Media) Contracts. Take a moment to think about what criteria you use in engaging with new potential online friends. How often do you interact with their posts? How much is too much interaction? What has someone done in the past to make you feel safe? What has someone done to make you feel not only unsafe but constantly monitored?

The tumultuous relationship with being Online. Feel free to meme this image.

Online intimacy is uniquely veiled and calculated. I make the decision of how vulnerable I’d like to get and who’s vulnerable content with which I choose to engage. This is not a value-judgement, rather, it is a perpetuation of this type of cyber-connection. It feels less risky than speaking to someone face-to-face. It allows the illusion that someone is reading my mind–predicting my desires to save me the painful vulnerability of speaking them. It creates a template to enhance future intimacy. Many people who I currently consider my close friends, I’ve met through twitter. Conceptualizing who they are from their tweets prior to meeting helped me feel safe and deem them trustworthy. I’ve touched on this concept quite a bit on my own twitter page.

the act of commodifying yourself into a “brand” of a few key traits over social media is a rlly nuanced form of intimacy w/ a select group of ppl tht could serve as the foundation 4 deeper intimacies but is also a v fascinating form of relating 2others thru self expression— alyssa is nostalgic (@clinicallychill) July 18, 2018

The commodification of the self into a recognizable “brand” is both a liberating and deeply shameful experience. It allows others to see me, to get excited with me over my favorite things but it can never be exhaustive. It’s like the replication of a work of art. Seeing a photo of the piece would give me an idea of what it looks like, allow me to form an opinion. However, much of the detail is lost when I’m not physically engaging with the original.* Sometimes, when I find myself leaning into personal “branding” on twitter dot com, I feel limited. When others who I don’t know (used broadly here to describe people who are not mutuals with me) utilize my own “branding” to connect with me, it can feel hollow.

IRL versus URL

It’s obvious I cannot kiss through the internet (despite my many failed attempts). I cannot cyber-hug, cyber-hold or cyber-fuck. As romantic as it would be to reach into the code to cradle a lover’s face, this action is impossible. However, there is a certain element of radical, nihilistic honesty that exists Online. One that is difficult to replicate in face-to-face interaction, possibly due to the temporality of IRL. Which leads me to ask, are there aspects of being Online that are so intimate and personal that it’s impossible to replicate IRL? Arms can cuddle but only fleetingly. Paragraphs of text from friends validating traumatic experiences and emphasizing my worth as a person can emotionally cuddle me until I need to delete the screenshot from my camera roll to make room for more.

Where my human memory lacks, my phone memory lasts. Remembering in-person conversations, particularly emotionally trying ones, is difficult for me. I remember the gist and frustrate myself wracking my brain for detail. Texting? That bitch never forgets. Did someone DM me something that required a ridiculous level of audacity? *Screenshot*–>send to my best friends. At crucial moments, the phone allows brain to brain communication. Listening to someone tell me a story from their perspective encourages me to try to drop my own opinions and hear them. Being sent screenshots of texts from friends? Puts me immediately in their POV, allowing me to not only hear them but to see as them.

Remaining Questions

This post is just scratching the surface. Digital intimacy is a topic I consider daily. There are still more questions I’m left with that I will, eventually, explore: What are the operationalized facets of digital intimacy? What else could be categorized as digital intimacy? What are the limits of parasocial relationships? Is being vulnerable online performative? Is sharing a Google Doc more intimate than fucking?

Related Media

*Ways of Seeing (BBC Limited Series) by John Berger

Brave New World of Digital Intimacy (2008)

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