The fast pace of the contemporary world
Many people now admit that it is really difficult to form and maintain relationships in the contemporary world as the pace of the contemporary life is too rapid. Some claim that the development of technology can help people to start and maintain relationships.
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For instance, many people rely on social networks that enable them to remain in contact with other people 24 hours a day. There is no need to spend hours and days to meet new friends and make new acquaintances, as one can simply use a specific tool offered by various social networks. One does not have to leave his/her apartment to socialize.
Many believe they may even create intimacy in their digital world. Nevertheless, social networks can only help to withhold intimacy with friends as the digital world is nothing more than an illusion which can only fulfil specific tasks (like sharing information, staying in touch, etc.). It is impossible to create real intimacy as the digital world contains numerous covert dangers.
One of the most explicit obstacles to forming real intimacy is anonymity of the digital world where all people choose whether they should reveal their true selves. However, to illustrate this viewpoint it is important to define the notion ‘intimacy’.
Intimacy in the contemporary world
Different researchers define ‘intimacy’ differently. For instance, Jamieson (2002, p. 1) sees intimacy as “mutually shared intimacy” which requires “a relationship in which people participate as equals”.
The author also mentions that it can be rather difficult to achieve such type of intimacy as people living in the contemporary world are overwhelmed by various conventions.
People are divided in terms of race, gender, class, religion, etc. Admittedly, these differences can be difficult to ignore. The author notes that intimacy across genders, generations, classes and races can only take on this character if the participants can remove social barriers and transcend structural inequalities. (Jamieson 2002, p. 1)
Therefore, Jamieson (2002) still believes that intimacy is achievable in real life settings. However, the researcher does not claim that intimacy in the real world is so easy to achieve. Thus, Jamieson (1999) states that people expect to create mutual intimacy which is based on equality and trust.
People long to have relationships which enable them to share their feelings and to be sure their partners feel the same way. Nonetheless, the researcher admits that people have to deal with numerous prejudices which jeopardize complete intimacy.
Admittedly, Jamieson (2002) offers quite a comprehensive definition, which still lacks a very important point. Intimacy is not only sharing emotions, feelings and ideas. Intimacy also includes care. Turkle (2011) states that even if people create robots to take care of them, this will not mean that people will become closer, even though they will have more time to share emotions and feelings.
Turkle (2011, p. 292) stresses that the time people spend “caring for children, doing the most basic things for them, lays down a crucial substrate”. The researcher claims that it is the care that helps to create real mutual intimacy.
Thus, it is essential to take into account this important stratum when thinking of mutual intimacy. Admittedly, people can hardly reveal their care online. People are simply deprived of the opportunity to be close enough to care about each other. Those, communicating in social networks, are alienated from the rest of the world, which makes any care impossible.
Apart from this, mutual intimacy is jeopardized as people can never be sure in each other. As has been mentioned above, people find it hard to achieve mutual intimacy in their real lives. Such obstacles as prejudice concerning gender, race, etc. are transferred to the digital world as well. More so, many people do not only create digital relationships.
They also create digital selves. Of course, the digital and the real individual may be totally different personalities. Thus, sharing emotions and ideas becomes somewhat distorted as people tend to hide their true feelings if they feel disapproval.
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Finally, people now tend to withhold some information about them as they do not feel safe. Boyd (2008) notes that many Facebook users reveal their concerns about privacy.
Many users of social networks do not feel safe as their private data are reported to be quite easily revealed. This makes people withhold a lot of information. This also creates distrust and disappointment. There can be no mutual intimacy if people are overwhelmed by privacy concerns.
Media technologies cannot help to create intimacy though they can help to withhold it
Media technologies do not create intimacy
Many people argue that such media technologies as social networks can help people to create intimacy. However, these people are likely to confuse the terms. Thus, media technologies can help people to stay in touch. People can also get rid of the feeling of loneliness for certain period of time. Some may feel connected to others, which is also quite important at some periods of people’s lives.
For example, Sanderson and Cheong (2010) analyse the role of media in the contemporary mourning. Thus, the researchers describe the role social networks played after the death of Michael Jackson who was an icon for millions. The researchers conclude that social networks helped many people to accept the death of the idol.
Social networks helped many people to live through their loss. It is necessary to note that social networks have been used for mourning in ‘ordinary’ people’s lives. Thus, people try to share their emotions and memories about the deceased with the help of social networks.
Nevertheless, this can hardly be called the creation of intimacy. In this case, it is possible to speak of the way to unite on a specific occasion. However, these groups soon cease to exist. Besides, people do not reveal their thoughts on different topics as they are all concerned with only one topic: the life (and/or death) of the deceased.
In fact, social networks can hardly create real ‘mutual intimacy’. There have been many articles, books and even films on the matter. For instance, such films as Catfish (2010) or The Social Network (2010) reveal the ways the famous social network is used by millions.
The former film reveals the story about individuals who wanted to create mutual literacy. The two films suggest that it is nearly impossible as the network is a part of a non-existing world.
Admittedly, the majority of people have had some ‘relationships’ in some social networks. The majority of people use it to keep in touch with people. However, some also try to find new acquaintances. As far as I am concerned, I also found new acquaintances at some point in my life. It was interesting to communicate with those people, but I cannot say we managed to create the mutual intimacy.
We simply chatted about different things. We could be sincere (at least, I was sincere) while discussing some topics. However, our communication simply diminished at some point. I should say that it is not about me or people I was communicating with.
In real life I have really close people and I have created mutual intimacy with some people in the real life. Therefore, I can definitely claim that social networks (as well as the digital world) can hardly help people to create intimacy.
Media technologies rather withhold intimacy
However, the digital world can easily withhold intimacy. For instance, Shklovski et al. (2008) provide data which confirm that social networks can hardly maintain intimacy. The researchers have analysed the role social networks and other media technologies play in the life of those who move places. People try to maintain their intimacy with their close friends, but, eventually, their intimacy is diminished.
Social networks cannot help to maintain intimacy for a long time. More so, Shklovski et al. (2008) claim that telephone talks can be more effective in maintaining intimacy than messaging and e-mailing. People need real life interactions. They need to feel other people’s care. It is not enough to share some information (ideas, feelings, emotions, etc.).
On balance, it is possible to claim that media technologies can help people to stay in touch and share some important information. However, these means can never create intimacy which can only be achieved in the real life as it is not enough for people to share ideas.
They need to feel care and love. At the same time, social networks can play negative role in maintaining intimacy as when people stop feeling care, mutual intimacy is diminished.
Boyd, D 2008, ‘Facebook’s privacy trainwreck: Exposure, invasion, and social convergence’, Convergence: The International Journal of Research into New Media Technologies 14.1, pp. 13-20.
Jamieson, L 1999, ‘Intimacy transformed? A critical look at the pure relationship’, Sociology 33.3, pp. 477-494.
Jamieson, L 2002, Intimacy: Personal relationships in modern societies, Polity Press, Malden.
Sanderson, J & Cheong, PH 2010, ‘ Tweeting prayers and communicating grief over Michael Jackson online ‘, Bulletin of Science, Technology and Society 30.5, pp. 328-340.
Shklovski, I, Kraut, R & Cummings, J 2008, ‘Keeping in touch by technology: Maintaining friendships after a residential move’, CHI 108, pp. 1-10. Web.
Turkle, S 2011, Alone together: Why we expect more from technology and less from each other, Basic Books, New York.