About a year ago, I came across the story of Stephanie and Christian Nielson through a mutual friend and former colleague, Andrew Bagley. Stephanie, the popular “mommy” blogger behind the NieNie Dialogues, and her husband, Christian, were traveling back from a family trip when they were involved in a private airplane crash (Today Show story here). Their flight instructor was killed and both suffered serious burns; Stephanie’s being more extensive.
I’m not quite sure why, but I felt an immediate connection to Stephanie. It could have been because my first recollections of pain were from serious burns that I experienced as child or the passionate love for her children she illustrates through her posts that reminds me of my Mum’s love for my sister and I. Alas, it could have also been related to my general nature as a complete softy.
Regardless of why, I followed Stephanie and Christian’s recovery through Twitter conversations, her family members’ blogs and then Stephanie’s when she returned to writing a few months ago. Though I have never met Stephanie or Christian, I have often cheered their successes and shed a few tears during their set backs. It’s odd to have such deep feelings for people who you have never shared more than casual interactions through their writing, and one that can only be somewhat explained through one of my favorite blogger’s, Leisa Reichelt, theory of Ambient Intimacy. Leisa describes Ambient Intimacy as, “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.
Social networks and the tools built around them are giving everyone participating levels of ambient intimacy with people we have never seen before. As Leisa mentions, Twitter gives us the chance to find out what people are doing at any given moment of the day, Flickr lets us see the world through other people’s eyes, event-based networks such as Upcoming show us where people might be going and Yelp gives us the likes and dislikes of everyone leaving reviews. We suddenly know more about individuals we follow than their own personal friends or family might now, and this creates significant levels of intimacy. Sometimes this intimacy can leave one feeling sad as David Armano wrote about when he heard about the passing of Megan Porter, and other times we feel uplifted as I felt when I read about Stephanie climbing a nearby mountain to celebrate one-year of life after the accident.
Ambient intimacy is an interesting theory and definitely needs more exploration. As social networks evolve, it will become more important not only to how humans interact on them, but also how brands apply the theory to humanize themselves.
What are you thoughts on ambient intimacy? Is it a bunch of hodgepodge or does it explain the emotions we feel for those who we only have a digital relationship with? How could brands apply this theory to humanize themselves across the social web?
(photo by Serge K. Feller)