Does the Internet enable intimacy?

“Yes, “ according to Stefana Broadbent, a cognitive scientist and professor of Digital Anthropology at the University College of London. In a popular TED talk, she explores how people use technology to break down the institutional barriers of school, work, and community that attempt to curb personal communication in daily life. Is our day-to-day technology use improving our relationships with others? And in the age of social media, are we using our networks to communicate with as many people as possible?

“Does the Internet Enable Intimacy?” a TED talk by Stefana Broadbent really, Broadbent discovered: the average person is in regular contact with just 5-7 people. After studying the communication habits of hundreds of people, she found that:

  • the average Facebook user has 120 friends, but engages regularly with only 4-6 people,
  • users of instant messaging average about 100 contacts, but chat with just 2-4 of them,
  • Skype users tend to communicate regularly with 2 contacts,
  • people are using video communications to spend time with faraway loved ones.

“When given the possibility,” she writes, “ most people want to be able to keep in touch with their personal social sphere whenever they want or feel the need for it.” Alternately, people are willing to text under the table and otherwise circumvent policies in schools and in the workplace for a few precious words with a loved one or their partners. In fact, she notes in the TED talk, a Pew Research Center study found 50% of email access, 75% of phone calls and 100% of text messages sent and received in the workplace are personal communications with partners, spouses, or family members.

“SMS is to tell you I miss you, email is to organize our dinner, voice is to say I’m late, and IM is to continue our conversation,” says Broadbent. And as smartphones and tablet devices become more accessible than ever to the average person, it’s no surprise to see that chat apps like WhatsApp, iMessage and Kik have surpassed the use of text messaging in daily communication. Social media networks are also used to specialize social contact: we use Facebook to connect with the wider world , networks like Path to connect with a small circle of friends, and apps like Couple to stay in close contact with a partner.

Though technology allows us to keep in touch with more people in more ways than ever, what’s most important is close, frequent contact with those who matter to us the most. As we increase the number of tools we use with our loved ones, however, it is almost impossible to create a complete record of the communication we have with one person, a problem we’ve set out to solve by building a private place for all of your most intimate exchanges with the person you love the most.

About Jessy

Resident dinosaur enthusiast + all things community at Couple. You can find me running the Couple blog as well as our Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Google+, and Tumblr accounts. Lover of GIFs, tacos, and sticker-bombing my #hackerboyfriend with Mayhem when he least expects it.

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