Constructing Intimacy: Technology, Family and Gender in East Asia

Volume 02, Issue 2

How do expectations of intimacy with family, peers or friends relate to the technologies available to express them, and to the political economy in which they are embedded? Such questions fascinate theorists of the Internet Society, for digital technologies have opened up seemingly infinite new possibilities for creating human bonds where none existed before. Yet the same question can also be profitably applied to almost any human community, present or past, whether their technologies are “advanced”, “traditional” or “mixed”. Intimacy denotes closeness or interdependence, an intertwining of human lives and experiences, replete with the tensions, contradictions and imbalances of power typical of any form of reciprocity. The relations between mother and son, doctor and patient, lovers, and members of a basket-ball team are all intimate in varying ways. Intimacy can usefully be defined as `a form of relatedness entailing material or virtual proximity, implying the sharing of spaces, things, or experiences and resulting in bonding between individuals' (Santos and Donzelli forthcoming). 2 The role of technology in constructing such bonds of perceived proximity and sharing deserves more imaginative attention. The technologies of virtual communication which currently feature so prominently in social theory and STS are certainly one key element in the construction of intimacy in our own society. But we build human closeness from many materials and in many styles. Throughout our history, and still today, communications are just one among many technological domains of sheltering, provisioning, caring, connection and exclusion that we devise to construct the building blocks of intimacy, combining them into complex material and emotional architectures of solidarity and antagonism, tension and comfort, cooperation and control, misery and pleasure.

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