Intimacy and Mobile Devices
Talk at Nottingham University 14/3/2014
These slides have been
edited for the web
- Participant images blurred
and videos removed
Video Clip Removed
– Boyfriend retrieves girlfriends phone while Strictly
Come Dancing is on
• Intimacy can be a whole host of things
– Kissing, holding hands, being close,
looking into eyes…
– Intimacy is category-bound (mother-
child, couples, … )
– Intimacy is a moral issue
• There are (“thorny”) differences between
talking about, and doing intimacy
– Both are orderly and category bound
– But doing intimacy does not involve
the same forms of reasoning as
talking about it
– Intimacy is „ascribable‟ within
courses of action
“These days, insecure about our relationships
and anxious about intimacy, we look to
technology for ways to be in relationships and
protect ourselves from them at the same time.
… We fear the risks and disappointments of
relationships with our fellow humans. We
expect more from technology and less from
• Intimacy can be had with and through
technology, but is changing
• A bleaker view than other sociologists (e.g.
Giddens also sees a shift, but to „confluent
“When it comes to a sense of intimacy… young
people make ready and skilled use of modes of
connection that are instantly available but with the
concomitant failure to pursue riskier, yet potentially
more meaningful relationships with one another. Only
those young people able to resist the Narcissus trap
and the Circean lure of apps-of-the-moment are likely
to form a meaningful identity or to forge intimate
relationships with others.“ (Gardner and Davis)
• Intimacy with and among young people
• Intimacy as meaningful and valuable
• Recommend resistance to tech, and appropriate
styles of use
“Here you see a family, they may be sitting together in the living room, but,
they‟re all using their own devices”
Yvonne Rogers (TEDx Barcelona)
“And then in the most beautiful places like this Japanese garden, in spring,
this couple should be looking fondly into each other‟s eyes, being
romantic, but no what they‟re doing is they are totally immersed in their
own mobile devices.”
Yvonne Rogers (TEDx, Barcelona)
Source: The Guardian (originally published
Source Unknown (widely shared on Twitter
and other social media)
Simmel (1908) discussed how people in cities avoid eye contact
and do things like read newspapers when they are close to
[Use of WhatsApp] is togetherness and intimacy
enacted through small, continuous traces of
narrative, of tellings and tidbits, noticings and
thoughts, shared images and lingering pauses. This
friendship has a history and an ongoing trajectory
into the future. It has a rhythm whereby people are
coming together and then parting knowing they will
come back not to the same space but through the
next act of communication, the next expression of
„what‟s happening‟. Some of this is in and through
WhatsApp, but more of it is through a sharing of
lives, a being together.
O’Hara et al – Everyday Dwelling with WhatsApp
Intimacy in HCI
• There is a widely recognised relationship between overuse of digital
devices and diminished intimacy
– Recognised in and beyond academia
– But often as a moral problem concerning other people (teens,
• Intimacy is largely „talked around‟ in HCI (and related fields).
– We consider intimacy-through-tech without considering intimacy.
Intimacy as a Design Problem
– Shared devices, and/or interactions across people‟s devices
• O‟Hara et al (and many others)
– Technologies to help us maintain intimacy when away
• Gardner, Schofield, Turkle
– Appropriate styles of use
• Many beyond this
– E,g, Branham, “Design for couples”
• But - We are designing for intimacy without knowing what it is
– What is the question?
Video Clip Removed
– Girlfriend looks at boyfriend and is given chocolate
The Examples Show…
• The use of mobile devices (in the videos) is enmeshed with TV
watching, talking, eating, talking, and so on
– It is not that devices are used instead of other activities, but they
are used in and with other actions.
– The question might be: how as these activities interwoven?
• Many examples of intimacy can be found
– Looking into eyes, cuddling, talking
– Devices can be a part of this: sharing, fixing, retrieving
• Intimacy is embedded in courses of action
So what is the Problem?
• Shared devices?
– Devices are already shared
– Sharing, retrieving and so on are incorporated into intimate acts
• Practices to support outside the home?
– Intimacy is not itself an action, but us in actions
• Styles of use
– There already appear to be certain styles of patterns of use: for
example, a partner has the rights to look or get first look.
– Appropriate use is a topic of argument
This work was done in collaboration with: Tim Smith, Alistair Morrison,
Matthew Higgs, Mattias Rost & Matthew Chalmers.
• Yvonne Rogers (2013) “Society Minds, Technology Doesn’t”, talk at TedX Barcelona:
• Simmel, G. (1908) Sociology: Investigations on the Forms of Sociation. Berlin: Duncker & Humblot.
• O’hara, K., Massimi, M., Harper, R., Rubens, S., Morris, J. (2014) Everyday Dwelling with WhatsApp. Proc
CSCW 2014, Feb 15-19, Baltimore, MD: 1131-1143.
• Turkle, S. (2011) Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other. Basic
• Gardener, H., Davis, K. (2013) The App Generation. Yale University Press.
• Schofield Clark, L. (2013) The Parent App. Understanding Families in the Digital Age. Oxford University
• Tolmie, P. (2010) Everyday Intimacy. Recognising Intimacy in Everyday Life. Lambert Academic Publishing.
• Branham, S., Harrison, S. (2013) Designing for Collocated Couples. In Neustaeder, C., Harrison, S., and
Sellen, A. Connecting Families. The Impact of New Communication Technologies on Domestic Life.
• Giddens, A. (1992) The Transformation of Intimacy: Sexuality, Love and Eroticism in Modern Societies.
• Kendon, A. (1990) Conducting Interaction. Patterns of Behaviour in Focused Encounters. Cambridge
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