The New Intimacy Economy
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 reach and brand equity driven by passionate followers who “like” everything Cara Delevigne posts that she is doing. Examples of intimacy’s high valuation are everywhere, from Taylor Swift’s constant passel of best-best friends to Kim Kardashian pretending her daughter North “accidentally” posted a bikini selfie of Mom. She’s just like us! Anyone you admire starts to feel available to you via social media, and the more they cultivate that impression of a relationship, the better you, as a consumer, will perform.
Importantly, though, it’s not just celebrities who participate in the intimacy valuation market. My colleagues in the video games biz have developed their own subscription channels and platforms where they now make more money per video appealing directly to their fans than they would working for a traditional platform. Traditional channels cannot afford them. I’ve self-published books and stories directly to my readership that earned definitively more money than they would have through any traditional channel (assuming traditional channels would have even wanted them). We are all well aware that people are spending money because they like us, or some idea of us; they are spending in part because of the idea that they are engaged in a parasocial relationship with us....MORE