Why do we use Facebook? For flirting? For networking? To assuage loneliness? To exhibit ourselves? To lurk upon others’ lives?
To stalk old lovers? To make sure current ones aren’t cheating? To reconnect with past friends in elementary school through college? To offer impersonal happy birthday shout-outs? To advertise an event? To window-shop for love?
Whatever fuels your interest, Facebook has become the hottest online nightclub where people boogie to the dance of Electronic Intimacy.
Electronic Intimacy, as I define it, consists of using electronic technology to meet, mate and/or maintain connections online. Our entire existence, including our intimate lives, has been transformed by the Internet. Thus, we are witness to the marriage of electronic technology and intimacy. The question becomes whether this union is for better or worse.
Electronic technology allows for anonymous and/or invisible contact. For some, this shield of safety yields bountiful and boundless self-disclosure. In a society where individuals are thirsty for intimacy, this may help create deep connections very rapidly. But be wary of speed, as the instant gratification may bite you in the bum. Those who open up with great haste may then feel a little overexposed and vulnerable.
To mitigate that feeling of vulnerability, we can go to big anonymous nightclubs, like Facebook — the most popular, impersonal place to see and be seen. While Facebook provides many people with the opportunity to keep connected and up to date on other’s lives, there can also be a diminished sense of intimacy. One woman referred to Facebook as “the depersonalization of our society.” The site allows people to connect and reconnect, but in a loose and superficial context. With hundreds of millions of members and individual networks with thousands of friends, the responsibility to return contact becomes reduced.
On the flipside, Facebook is a nightclub, and like any good nightclub, there is an infinite opportunity for the single to mingle. Whether solo or betrothed, the art of flirting on Facebook is a skill set that takes time to acquire. Drawing only upon onedimensional, abbreviated text, Internet researcher Aron Ben Ze’ev notes that we must seek meaning and richness through the kinds of words chosen, the speed of response, and the length and frequency of messages. Emoticons, like the orgasm face — :O — also help communicate our thoughts and feelings. But in our fast-paced society, is connecting via Facebook easier than carving out time for face-to-face contact?
Has electronic technology conditioned us to create a more informal intimacy?
Many people maintain that our intimate connections are more potent when we have eye contact. Others contend that can we delve deeper when we have only the power of words. Like written love letters of the past, that invisible and anonymous barrier called the computer screen permits many a person to pour his or her heart out. Perhaps this unhindered honesty stems from a lack of physical self-doubt when face-to-face judgment becomes less of a factor. As Facebook member Joellen states, “It’s a great way to hide if you’re insecure about direct interaction.”
But not all people use Facebook to hide. Quite the contrary. Our big anonymous nightclub allows individuals to advertise, network, research, read, create, fantasize, explore others and, of course, exhibit thyself! Individuals can post selected items on Facebook profile pages, such as pictures, education and job info, groups and causes, political and religious views, dating status, and brief updates of what one is doing or even thinking. Then, in an almost addictive fashion, members can search through these pictures and pieces of information of those in their networks. Though I am not sure which is more prevalent, the posting or the probing, it seems as though Facebook has incited the evolution of the online exhibitionist, simultaneously giving way to unlimited voyeurism. And forget about it if you have a new crush or a recent breakup. Lurking then becomes nearly neurotic.
Some may balk that Facebook is an illusion of intimacy. Others assert that it acts as a satisfactory supplement to our material world. Whether this marriage of electronic technology and intimacy will sustain the test of time has yet to be determined.
Jenni Skyler, PhD, is a sex therapist and board-certified sexologist. She runs The Intimacy Institute in Boulder, www. theintimacyinstitute.org.