Social media is often construed in our society as this strange tension between unlimited connection and its production of feelings of overwhelming disconnection. Over and over again we hear complaints about how people are increasingly “addicted to their devices” and that social media platforms breed the illusion of intimacy. Most of us can confess that we have far more friends on Facebook than we’d consider real friends and yet when we interact with other people online, we have this odd sense that we somehow still share a connection with them. Despite the increasing amount of “connectedness” that we have with the rest of the world via our devices, we still feel as alone as ever, if not more so. However, whining about social media is completely over-done and it is obvious that plenty of good has come along with the bad. Long distance relationships are possible and we can see the faces of our families that live far away from us in a matter of seconds through FaceTime or Skype. Keeping all of this in mind, we have to question ourselves – is this real intimacy? It feels like a kind of distorted version of it because we are together, yet unavoidably far apart. The voice, the face, the sound – it’s all there, but it’s all altered. There isn’t a simple answer on how to navigate these tensions at play, but the reality is that this is probably not going to go away.
There exists a growing number of companies and pages that use social media to invoke feelings of real connection rather than simply the illusion of it. They plead to those who follow them to bring back love; to bring back intimacy.
At the heart of this tension is a new wave of brands that are using social media to call for intimacy. Brands that use their stories, posts, and tweets to get people to come together. Brands that encourage vulnerability and intimacy online in a way that seeks to foster relationships rather than distort them. There exists a growing number of companies and pages that use social media to invoke feelings of real connection rather than simply the illusion of it. They plead to those who follow them to bring back love; to bring back intimacy. This trend is especially apparent on Instagram, with pages like We’re Not Really Strangers and Big Love Ball – they push us to make something real via what is virtual. Yet, how is this even possible?
We’re Not Really Strangers uses their Instagram to connect with their online audience in a way that, they claim, has agency; in a way that brings about action in the real world. With Instagram polls that ask questions which make you self-reflect, the comment section becomes a space where people can express their shared emotions. The aim is to make you feel less alone, as said by the founder, Koreen Odiney, who creates new polls every week based on a different theme. The brand’s Instagram page has over 100,000 followers, as they create original content with the intent of invoking feelings and depth of response. They host “Vulnerable Sundays”, which essentially entail a personal question being posted and followers reply in the comment section and interact with each other. Branding themselves as a “world movement seeking to empower people to make meaningful connections with other humans,” We’re Not Really Strangers claims to aid in the creation of intimacy that so many of us feel we are lacking.
Another brand that uses their Instagram page to get people to connect and share the “love” is Big Love Ball, based out of Vancouver. Although their Instagram may not directly reach out online the way We’re Not Really Strangers does, the brand is incredibly active online, “making its way around the globe, into the hearts of every culture through the use of social media and the instantaneous nature of Instagram.” Seeking to reach out to people online, owner and founder, Wendy Williams-Watt, presents “an irresistible invitation to connect,” one that is filled with both “inclusion and compassion”. The brand promotes events designed to facilitate connection with one’s local community and spreads their message of love and openness on all their platforms. Social media is, quite simply, the most effective medium for spreading their message. The message, however, becomes incredibly ironic as these brands encourage intimacy on the platform that many claim is what took it away in the first place.
In seeking to bring out honesty and vulnerability, these brands reveal a very optimistic view of social media that may be turning a blind eye to the self-imposed limits of their message.
While it’s true that social media gives brands the ability to reach way more people, what remains in question is whether or not it’s the most effective way to actually make something happen. Brands that promote this intimacy are limited by the structure of social media platforms. While it may sound great that people are interacting online and feel part of a community, the genuine nature and authenticity of these connections is always going to be unclear. In seeking to bring out honesty and vulnerability, these brands reveal a very optimistic view of social media that may be turning a blind eye to the self-imposed limits of their message. The intimacy fostered via social media is unlikely to unable the same kind of connection that is achieved through face to face interactions. So, why settle within the limits of social media?
As is important in other aspects of life, we must always be questioning the true nature of what we are being fed, especially on social media. We must remind ourselves that brands often tend to have an ulterior motive as the fact remains that they are not only calling for intimacy, but calling for you to buy their merchandise. The message itself becomes a cause for speculation as the brands may simply be appealing to what they perceive society is lacking in hopes of filling the void by selling their products. It is only after acknowledging the tensions at play when the call for intimacy is introduced on a platform that is conceived as taking it away, that we can then decide what to do about it. It’s impossible to find a clear solution, yet we can mediate this tension by attempting to push aside our skepticism, at least partly, and just appreciate the message these brands are hoping to achieve. Maybe we can make an effort to connect to people around us, be it on social media or in the real world. Maybe we can be a little more vulnerable and confess that more intimacy would make our lives better in some way. Maybe we can let this message work on us, because maybe, it just might help.