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How the Internet Enables Intimacy

November 4, 2009

In the latest TED Talk, anthropologist Stefana Broadbent suggests that the technologies of social media–such as blogs, facebook, and twitter–are actually promoting greater intimacy between people rather than sucking time away from social involvement as is often supposed. In this unnatural environment we’ve constructed, with regulated time schedules, overseers–er, I mean, bosses–and artificial friendliness mandated as professional behavior, we long to reach out and connect with a community we identify with. In the short talk below, she suggests that this technology allows us to escape, even momentarily, and connect on a human level.



The vast majority of people (probably 80%) will be reading this blog from work or school. Where are you right now and how do you use social media to maintain human connection in this human zoo?
H/T Maia Duerr

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8 Comments leave one →
  1. Anonymous permalink
    November 4, 2009 12:30 pm

    ohh thankss :))
    Very beautifull place , thanks…
    In the latest TED Talk, anthropologist Stefana Broadbent suggests that the technologies of social media–such as blogs, facebook, and twitter–are actually promoting greater intimacy between people rather than sucking time away from social involvement as is often supposed. In this unnatural environment we’ve constructed, with regulated time schedules, overseers–er, I mean, bosses–and artificial friendliness mandated as professional behavior,

  2. Diane G. permalink
    November 4, 2009 2:02 pm

    Agree wholeheartedly.
    Our actual social interactions are often constrained by physical & social factors that limit us to the neighborhoods we happen to live in, the institutions we happen to work or study in/at, the people we’re related to, the people at our chidren’s schools, etc. The internet allows us to actually find & relate to those of like mind. (Both a positive & a negative…)

  3. November 4, 2009 3:29 pm

    Right now: At home, just got here from anatomy lab.
    I read blogs (mostly) and Twitter (less often) as a way of fishing for relevant, useful, sometimes actionable information; and to a lesser extent, to check on people that I consider friends. Many of them became friends because of my own blog postings or comments on other blogs. My collection of blog links is divided into highest priority (Scienceblogs, boingboing) and then into friends versus information (medblogs, art blogs, writing blogs and so forth).
    One of the ways my classmates and professors know me as an individual is because of the science-related blog posts of interest that I forward to them. This habit has led to many conversations. In the next few years as I go on to grad school, I’ll likely find out how well these relationships deepen into valuable long-term connections.
    The personal blogs of friends are more for communicating through timely comments: offers of further information, complementary viewpoints, words of encouragement or just ‘People care’. I feel this network is generally undervalued… I still draw strength months or years later from the supportive comments of people that I have never seen.

  4. Mary permalink
    November 4, 2009 6:41 pm

    Hmmm. I’m not sure how to score myself–I would have said I’m in the 20% not at work/school. I’m home. But I work from home. Now I feel like a guild member….
    Two quick thoughts: 1) I crave my e-interactions because I’m home alone all day. My average is probably higher on those contacts because of that. 2) I thought it was a little cavalier to criticize bus drivers with cell phones–we’ve actually had serious accidents from text messaging distractions. On their break, I don’t care. But there is a legitimate issue with that on the job.

  5. MPL permalink
    November 5, 2009 12:25 am

    A few thoughts:
    1) I don’t think researchers should be disappointed by the “five person” result: even though social groups tend to be turned fairly inward, they are never closed, and still branch out more than you’d expect. Even a very low chance of having contacts in multiple social circles connects the whole world pretty quickly.
    2) Does restricting employee private communications really help productivity much? There’s plenty of studies that just add up the estimated time spent on some activity and multiply by estimated wages to get some sort of dollar figure. But it seems like there’s a minimum of “time-wasting” that is inevitable, due to the limits of attention span, fatigue, the impossibility of doing work you don’t have, etc.

  6. Ian Kemmish permalink
    November 5, 2009 6:39 am

    “artificial friendliness mandated as professional behavior”
    One could make a convincing argument that this artificial friendliness (I assume you mean “Have a nice day now” and so on) is itself an entirely recent and largely American construct, and therefore atypical of most business behaviour.

  7. Dane Carr permalink
    November 5, 2009 10:19 am

    Increasing amount of contact increases intimacy? Thankfully it isn’t that easy, since that would make us creatures far less complex than humans. This is old comedy, with characters skyping each other, then physically meeting only to start skyping the person they were with to begin with. Intimacy?
    Being with those physically present, even in situations as seemingly empty as work commutes, is the only access to vital perception. How could it be otherwise? As if we should flee from the first hint of tedium. As if we shouldn’t try to winnow perceptions from the quotidian. As if embracing one’s own humanness needs justification.
    It’s a wonderful irony: we feel like we should be “productive” or “intimate”, like we should phone or text someone, when it would be better to stare at dust or listen to commonplace sounds.
    Poetry is largely an attempt to sense and describe human perception. A mere pencil mediates this attempt some; an ipod or a cell phone obliterates it. The more elaborate the machine, the more it mediates a human’s experience, and the more quantifiable, more manufacturable, more robotic that human becomes.
    Is Broadbent actually talking about restraint, or its lack? That since it’s useless to call for restraint with cell phones and ipods, why pick a fight you can’t win?

  8. Social Sage permalink
    November 5, 2009 10:35 am

    Hello Eric,
    I couldn’t have depicted it any better than “human zoo”. Knowing or not, bravo to you. In answer to your question, I tightly use my social media.
    In reality, which so minutely pertains to Internet personal interaction with unknowns, Ms. Broadbent shouldn’t be a “bit disappointed” about cocooning. In fact, she should promote it. If not, she should adamantly advocate sincerity.
    With her twenty years of experience, I’d like to know if she’s once asked any of those people if they’ve gathered together their “100 people” buddy list to find how many even resemble their online personas. If so, what it’d reveal is that the vast majority are much unlike they electronically pose. Therefore, it plainly follows, it makes little sense to accredit any such person’s communication.
    Albeit, I’ve never assembled a gloriously unique Facebook get together, I’ve hosted large chat rooms and online groups gatherings and I write from a deeply ingrained cognizance. It remains, I’ll undoubtedly be dumbfounded every time that I reminisce of those paradoxical attendees. Hence, my “closure”.
    My veteran suggestion? If you’re someone who regularly consumes a heaping-caring-helping of uncharted Internet ‘Friends’, change your diet immediately. Lest one day you’ll die of truthful starvation.
    Sincerely, Brian Wofford

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