The New Intimacy Economy
This story is part of the Internet Time Machine, a collection about life online in the 2010s.
Lately Facebook is getting a little too intimate with me. “Good morning, Leigh,” it coos. “Thanks for being here. We hope you enjoy Facebook today.” Then, like a slice of dystopian cafeteria lunch, it serves one of its abysmal “memories” into my feed, some forgotten years-old share, and when I tell it I don’t want to see that, Facebook scrapes apologetically: “We know we don’t always get it right.”
No, Facebook, of course you don’t. Remember how you started serving me wedding ads when I’d only just told one or two people I was engaged? That was creepy. Facebook is absolutely, indisputably creepy, a fungal colony of privacy violations fused helplessly to our human infrastructure. It spies on its employees and it demands pictures of our ID so it can regulate our names.
Everybody knows Facebook is creepy. Nonetheless, all this time it never occurred to me to delete my account until it began doing this: Trying to act like a person. Pretending we are on a first-name basis.
We often imagine the inevitable future tech dystopia will be cold, populations marching under the eye of sterile robot overlords, our speech monitored and scrubbed of sentiment and intonation. Increasingly, though, it seems like we’re hurtling toward the opposite: A singularity of smarm, where performative — maybe even excessive — intimacy is the order of the day.
Of course we don’t want creeper spy colony Facebook to be our friend. But creating the impression of intimacy is becoming increasingly crucial to the content economy today, and it’s happening everywhere. As the bottom plummets out of the advertising model and the “stuff Facebook with clickbait” approach begins to run out of rope, content creators — comedians, storytellers, critics, journalists — are striking out on their own and funding their work through alternative means, from crowdfunding to patronage and subscriptions.
In general, people seem more likely to pay for content when it’s “voiced.” In the era of YouTube stars, we expect to see faces. We want eye contact. Supermodels are born on Instagram, their…