Apps for intimacy and empathy

Interesting post from Suw Charman about intimacy via apps like Twitter and Facebook. In her notes from FOWA07 she writes:

People have been trying to understand this for quite a period of time. Robin Dunbar has worked on this for a while, but focuses on primate behaviour. Dunbar's number. Also a great book "Grooming, Gossip and the Evolution of Language".
Dunbar interesting re: Twitter because we talk about the human imperative to communicate and create relationships. He says that the reason that our brains are the size they are is to track all our relationships with other humans, so we can out-manouevre them to get food, sex, climb the pecking order.
Grooming, picking fleas, is about forming these relationships. But you can only pick fleas on one primate at the time. Language allows you to "pick fleas" on more than one person at a time. Allows us to keep track of lots of poeple and who knows what and who and how they fit together and how you fit in with them. Explains a lot about why she has the imperative to connect the way she does. But our troupes have expanded, from primates to modern world.


Twitter or Jaiku, use to pick each others’ fleas en masse. Gives phatic expressiveness to a virtual space. Phat expression is speech where the function is to share feelings and be social, not about ideas or information. Hey, how are you? Internet has lots of places for our smart idea, but what it hasn’t had until recently, is a place for “hey, how are you?”. Flickr, Twitter, really amazing in terms of ways that they can transcend time and space to give us micro-insight into people’s lives on a day to day basis.

Very interesting. I’d gone as far as understanding that Twitter is not about information but about presence, but this is taking it to the next step i.e. how that presence is used – for intimacy. And also, therefore, for empathy. For me that’s just one more step towards a further similarity with the lifeworld of RL. As I walk down the street I unconsciously note what people are wearing, their body language, snippets of their conversation etc. I seldom act on it, beyond being kept informed about how well or little I fit in to that particular part of town, but it’s certainly part of my own lifeworld landscape. The trick is to not think of it as information which I need to store or act on, but which simply passes through my awareness.

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