Augmented Intimacy pt. 2: Being Social, Being Emotional - A Glossary
The most practical way to grasp the essence of a specific topic can be by outlining a glossary with its fundamental keywords. Although they might sound as already well asserted, looking at their significance can, in fact, open up to renewed connections. When dealing with the effects and the shifts taking place in our inner spheres during the everlasting interrelation with the Internet realm - and, in this case, when reflecting on how our sensibility, intimacy, social behaviours and emotional patterns might be affected through a mediated communication -, it appears, therefore, of value to focus on three basic yet peculiar terms.
Digital is the first one worth noting. It is not a recently coined word but rather has gone through evolutions over decades. Back in the fifteenth century, it designated a whole number less than ten and referred to the Latin word digitus, namely “finger”. However, until the mid-twentieth century, it was not widely used, and its greater importance appeared in opposition to analogue. Since the ‘70s, the word underwent a further extension and was applied to different types of information, broadcast methods, and media, up to the extended understanding we recognize today. When thinking of digital, concepts as accessibility, hyper-connectivity, interactivity, dematerialization immediately emerge. These features and properties match the possibilities generally granted and offered by the Internet itself, so that the two notions are nowadays almost overlapped and deeply intersected.
The second term is that of emotion. Its etymology is to be traced back to the Latin verb emovère (ex: out + movere: move), literally bring out, stir, and in a broader sense, shake, excite. Thus, the emotion can be understood as a jolting, a trigger, vibration of our inner dimension caused by events or particular states having effect both on our psychological and physical spheres. Interestingly, the scholar Sara Ahmed claims in her book The Cultural Politics of Emotion that emotions are not feelings “owned” by individuals, rather conditions established in their making. They should be intended as “doing things” since they involve intentionality and contribute to shaping the idea of sociality. They connect bodies to other bodies so that proximity takes place through a movement towards the external, as the etymology itself suggests. Hence, experiencing an emotion means going out of oneself and getting into another elsewhere to express and create attachment.
The last word to look up is communication. It derives from the Latin verb communicare and was initially used to indicate the transmission of quality or energy, the sharing of property, charge, privilege etc., so that these become dowry for others. From there, the idea that communication is about the diffusion of a thought, a feeling, a story, information unfolded. The term contains the neutral noun munus, -neris, with its twofold meaning of public office and gift. The preposition cum preceding it brings up the idea of a bidirectional and ideally equal exchange since it stands for “with/jointly”. At least from a linguistic point of view, this legacy is evident and perhaps important to underline and safeguard, considering that for political expediency a fair actuation of the communicative process is often endangered through forms of control and indoctrination.
If brought together, these three terms and their meanings might lead to an alternative - although partial - understanding of the social mechanisms taking place online. Communicating has a prominent role within the digital sphere, which is the cradle for the transmission, propagation and circulation of content among individuals along the wires. At present, the self can be seen as a node part of a network in constant discursive correlation with others, especially when we think of social media. Emotions, intended in their broadest spectrum of shades - and when shared on the web - are enacted social agents setting up a participatory and relational environment beyond our screens. They influence personal bonds and install interaction chains. And precisely, the idea of exiting oneself to enter an extraneous orbit makes the emotional dimension intrinsically related to the digital, which acts both as the medium where the communication is enlivened and the outer space where the communicator is projected when connected. The office or the gift - with reference to munus, -neris - of one’s own presence is made visible and shareable through these fluid and affective-based dynamics.
Eventually, it seems appropriate to point out how digital originally referred to the fingers, and consequently to the haptic sense and touch. At the same time today, it is associated with the idea of intangibility. From such a perspective, what makes the term reconnect to its primary meaning is the increasingly blurred distinction between virtual and physical: the communicative flow drenched in emotional potential winding within the Internet is, in fact, getting more and more perceptible due to the palpable nature of its consequences.