Ambient Intimacy is Intimacy

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Ambient intimacy is seeing twitter's "What's happening?” prompt and answering, "How was your day?" instead. Given sufficiently personal expressions, what accretes is “real” intimacy — just digitally-transmitted instead of verbally-expressed over a kitchen sink. And even in the case of one-sided communications, granting the emitter your attention gives them access to the same cognitive machinery.

"I've never met them but I know them."

More often than not, you're not wrong.

I've met a lot of people through twitter. Generally, they match my pre-IRL expectations. The ones who don’t use tend to use Twitter as if it were LinkedIn but without suit-jackets. They dispatch TwitterCard-sealed news from their particular domain, and they share little personal information. The one’s I do recognize upon first bio-meeting? They aren’t using twitter as a social bookmarking service — they’re being social through self-expression.

“I never met them but I know them.”

Admittedly, Twitter is a lot of different things to different people. And, it’s often a confusing place because limited context makes it hard to distinguish what mode someone is in when they tweet. But, oddly enough, things get easier with ambient intimacy. When you have a personal model of someone in addition to an intellectual one, you see more of them. That doesn’t mean you won’t be wrong. But it does make the context incomparably richer — and, social.

That’s the real reason I care about anti-abuse generally and community boundary enforcement, specifically. Hat-tip to J. Corwin for introducing the term to me, but we live in a noosphere.

There are lots of similar words used to say the same thing about our increasingly hyper-connected information environment, but I like this one because, to me, it conveys how new and weird things are. We’re only at the beginning of what’s even possible, let alone what’s necessary.

And, I think social networks designing for ambient intimacy is a necessity. The distinction between “irl” vs “online” continues to erode. That richer model of what someone is saying that ambient intimacy affords? It’s error-correction repurposed from the former environment and adapted for the latter one. It helps us correctly receive what someone really means to say. Even if what they’re saying is silly, that’s useful.


Postscript: I’m not working on reflock — what was meant to be my twitter anti-abuse tool — anymore. There are a lot of reasons for that but it looks like Tracy Chou’s app mirrors a lot of what I was implementing. I haven’t used it so this isn’t an endorsement, but please signup for the waitlist if you have abuse problems. I hope it works well because I want you to share yourself freely!