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Ambient Intimacy

by Stuart McIntyre
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Ambient Intimacy

Great post on the disambiguity blog from Leisa Reichelt, detailing how new Web2.0 style tools (including Twitter, Jaiku, Facebook, Skype etc.) are increasing the levels of “Ambient Intimacy” that we share with friends and colleagues:

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. Flickr lets me see what friends are eating for lunch, how they’ve redecorated their bedroom, their latest haircut. Twitter tells me when they’re hungry, what technology is currently frustrating them, who they’re having drinks with tonight.

Who cares? Who wants this level of detail? Isn’t this all just annoying noise? […]

There are a lot of us, though, who find great value in this ongoing noise. It helps us get to know people who would otherwise be just acquaintances. It makes us feel closer to people we care for but in whose lives we’re not able to participate as closely as we’d like.

Many others have picked up this meme, and carried it forward, including James Governer of Redmonk:

The mundane is powerful, the quotidian defines us. Do I care that you ate peas for dinner? Not really. But if you share a quick recipe I might appreciate it. Does anyone really want to live in a world where all we talk about is work? Where the only language we speak is that of the MBA? Me – I prefer a little monkey business, because play drives productivity. That’s ambient intimacy.

So, much of the content in the Web2.0 world may not be strictly business-related, and indeed, it shouldn’t be. Instead, the conversations, debates, tweets, interractions, connections and collaborative incidents are all ways to increase the level of ambient intimacy we share with one another, and thus the level of understanding that might exist between us.


How much better might we work (and collaborate) if we understand the family situations that our colleagues have, or the nature of their commuting patterns, or their hobbies/interests. Twenty years ago these interractions were taking place at the golf club, the coffee shop or the gym and with relatively few contacts. In 2007 they are also happening via technological communication systems, and with far more people.

As Dunbar suggested in his book “Grooming, Gossip and the Evolution of Language“, our natural instincts lead us to only want to communicate regularly with a small group of friends – he suggests the limit is 150. By opening ourselves up to far greater social interactions through tools such as Linked In, Jaiku, Flickr etc. (and indeed Lotus Connections) we will be able to extend our social networks to numbers far greater that this.

So, Ambient Intimacy? I love the term and think it is here to stay…

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