Digital Intimate Publics and Social Media was published by Palgrave Macmillan in 2018. The book is a collection edited by Amy Dobson, Brady Robards and myself. It grew out of the series of Digital Intimacies symposiums.
Digital Intimacies 1.0 at UQ in 2015.
Digital Intimacies 2.0 at UQ in 2016.
Digital Intimacies 3.0 at RMIT in 2017.
Digital Intimacies 4.0 at Curtin in 2018.
The symposiums have brought together a formation of researchers interested in the critical value and importance of our intimate entanglements with digital media. It has been an immense privilege to be part of these events and to collaborate with Amy and Brady on putting together this collection with a wonderful collection of original thinkers about digital media and culture.
One thing I’ve learnt by working with the scholars involved in this collection is the value of public intimacy as a lens for thinking about social media platforms. What public intimacy helps us to centre is social relations: of feeling, of affect, of identity, of power, and of publicness. It helps to think about publicness as both opportunities for expression and as material resources held in common. Both kinds of publicness seem crucial in an era of where so much of everyday life intersect with, or transits through, for-profit media platforms.
Social media platforms appear to have become finely-tuned machines for producing, fostering and profiting from public intimacy. They are characterised by public performances of intimate feelings; the organisation of intimate life from messages between loved ones to hook-ups with strangers; the documentation of everyday moments - coffees, dogs, sunsets; and the expression of values and ideas that link us as individuals to larger public collectives.
Intimate life is played out, recorded, commodified, and made political on digital media.
In the arguments of each chapter in the collection we encounter public intimacy as nuanced relations between public performance and private feeling, public and private ownership, inner and outer life. We discover how social media platforms enable and foster intimate expressions, how those expressions promise rich encounters with one another, but simultaneously open our inner lives up to difficult negotiations, new and sometimes unwanted forms of publicness, abuse and commodification. Social media platforms are animated by the irresistable and unbearable nature of intimacy, our inner-most desires to connect with each other.
The collection provided an opportunity for Amy, Brady and myself to think through how social media are now centrally involved in processes whereby practices of intimate life are learnt, reproduced, given value, contested and commercialised. In our chapter, we explore how public intimacy on social media is valuable as both a form of social capital and a form of labour intrinsic to platform business models. The argument is a product of our collaboration, bringing into conversation threads in our own individual work.
In our writing in the book, and in the collection overall, I think what emerges is a key provocation: the digital intimate publics of social media are not not public enough.
At least one of the paradoxes at play here is that the qualities of digital intimate public that give them their public value are also the key sources of their commercial value. Excessive, transgressive, affectively intense performances are both politically transformative and generators of valuable attention.
While social media platforms afford diverse forms of expression, they simultaneously develop the capacity to monitor and modulate the visibility of diverse identities. And here, the private interests of platforms shape judgements about publicness and intimacy.
Public intimacies are not public enough in the sense that participants have little control over what platforms do with their intimate relationships. These are the stakes of paying attention to public intimacy - holding on to its radical potential, and insisting on its enduring publicness as not just publicity or visibility, but also as shared control over the material technologies of intimacy. What is at stake is the publicness of both our expressions and the infrastructures that enable them.