Sunday, March 15, 2009

Ambient intimacy

Hoyden About Town recently spoke on ambient intimacy and assistive devices. She said: "The internet is the virtual watercooler (or coffeehouse, or playgroup, or pub) for people like me, isolated due to disability. And I'm fed up with able-bodied folk slamming electronic community as a meaningless half-life. I'm sick of internet use being constructed as a signifier of a person as a pathetic loser worthy of mockery. And I'm over ignorant pundits reviling the rise in electronic community as The End of the World as We Know It, a one-way highway to the inevitable disengaged, apolitical fragmentation of society."

Disambiguity tells me that ambient intimacy is "about being able to keep in touch with people with a level of regularity and intimacy that you wouldn’t usually have access to, because time and space conspire to make it impossible". I do this. I am friends with people on a forum that is almost entirely US-based but I find a lot of support on there. I am also a member of forums on BubHub and Joyous Birth, and while I'm not a prolific poster there yet, I am doing a lot of reading for personal and professional reasons. I am also on Ravelry. These give me a community that I don't have access to in the real world or IRL (in real life) as it is referred to.

What makes these less "real" than the physical world? I tell people on these forums things that I wouldn't otherwise share with anyone other than my most intimate friends - but sometimes you want a community of people to respond to you. And that community is self-selecting, in that they have an inherent interest in you/what you're talking about. How am I to know whether my friend is interested in my school life, or my tooth ache, or how to deal with a situation with a work colleague, or how to talk to ManFriend about debt and plans for the future? I don't have that many tangible friends that are older and more experienced and forums give me access to those, so they are just as real as the person I can hug. And when the forums that I am part of are places where people will call me on my shit, or give me a point of view that I've not considered or would never have researched, I see them as more useful than my friends, who can sometimes want to save my feelings by not being honest.

1 comment:

Kate said...

What about us? We're IRL friends, but I don't think we'd be as close without teh interwubs to keep us in touch.

I speak to many people everyday over the web that I would otherwise go weeks without contact with. It's an easy, low-cost-entry way to maintain those relationships which would otherwise take a lot of effort to maintain.

The thing is, these things aren't a point-for-point substitiute. And they're not meant to be. Chatting isn't like meeting for coffee, isn't like talking on the phone, isn't like doing an activity together. None of them are like each other, and they shouldn't be. I've shared personal stuff online with people that I feel uncomfortable saying face to face, for instance.

It's stupid to deny the advantages of somethign because it is not EXACTLYTHESAME as what we would otherwise be doing - or not doing, for various reasons, only one of which is physically limited mobility.