2.2 On digital intimacy


Tim Cook has said he would like Apple technology to ‘connect with us intimately’. That’s the relationship Apple wants to have with its customers. Steve Jobs’ original mantra of being ‘user-friendly’ has got more cozy. Apple are one of the biggest generators of code on the planet.

Intimacy is a buzz. Today, you can expect your iWatch to vibrate on your wrist as a soft reminder of your next digitally delivered command. At the same time, the company itself remains secretive.

You could see this dynamic play out in the product launch of the iWatch, part of which involved downloaded an app for itself onto iPhone users. I experienced the launch, somewhat vicariously, by getting an app on my iPhone I didn’t want, and hadn’t asked for, with no clues about how to uninstall it.

Thoughtfulness is one kind of intimacy. When everything is ‘right there on your wrist’ or in your hand, auto-installing and auto-ordering in the name of convenience it can also be called invasive, something like the partner that’s decided you’re a couple and won’t let you break up.

Micahel Leunig cartoon

In the debate about the future of the digital human, the key question is where the boundaries are.

Boundaries between us and the digital, code-driven intimate relationships we now have with our devices now, suddenly, matter. Like, literally, they matter. These relationships are shaping who we are and what to connect to. They are becoming a part of us and having a say in our gene pool.

In less than two decades, the number of people using the internet around the world has rocketed, from 16 million in 1995 to to over 3 billion in August 2015.

50% of the planet is now connected to the internet. This rapid adoption shows how humans have latched onto it very eagerly. The main barriers  have been cost and lack of access, rather than any lack of willingness. As a result, the digital world’s now a porous and highly pervasive element of human life.

Human value can and is being capitalised by digital businesses that can fuse intimately into our lifestyles. Microsoft is investing in Uber right now at a valuation of $50 billion and the corporate valuations of digital businesses including Facebook ($235 billion), Google ($367 billion) Apple (in excess of $1 trillion) have come at least in part from pushing the human envelope around boundaries.

But we have yet to figure out where to draw the line on ease and convenience, if indeed we can.

In human psychology, a state of unhealthy, co-dependent attachments is known as enmeshment. Digital culture today is challenging conventional human ideas about what to tolerate.

When your fridge attacks, but you installed it, who or what is responsible for the outcome?

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