How the Online Pursuit of Fame at all Cost is Destroying Intimacy
Without discernment, we shop our private lives piecemeal online in exchange for a click, a buck, the odd byline perhaps. Day in, day out, we crank out shockers inspired by our most intimate shame, those vexatious moments when others humiliated us. Sometimes, our body of work becomes an online manual to our sexual self, the one lusting for validation and compensation between the lines. One installment at a time, we disclose the secret life of our various pleasure orifices, our assorted fantasies as we attempt to exact revenge upon those who scorned or mistreated us by reliving those moments in print to spin them into gold.
Often, we attempt to parlay our sexless and loveless lives into something edgy and marketable by passing it off as vulnerability. Soon, dignity devolves into incontinent pathos; we do not regain control of our narrative, we repackage it into something we can sell, striving to replicate what mainstream media has shown us works. As a result, the internet turns into Jerry Springer and everyone is writing National Enquirer style headlines. We reveal how the celebrities we slept with are, you know, humans like us. Only with more money, more fame than us and we want some of that so we take it as payment for having shared naked moments together. But kiss-and-tell is no longer the preserve of shoddy journalism, it’s a mindset now; we are all media, we are all potential celebrities. Even if our one claim to fame is that we talk when we have nothing of import to say.
At what point will society become inured to it all and the sensationalistic soufflé will deflate and go stale in the corner, a poorly thought out editorial entrée? We will continue to hunger for fellow feeling; we will continue to wonder how we destroyed what we sought to achieve; we will have condemned ourselves to loneliness. When intimacy becomes our stock-in-trade and we sell that which does not belong to us, without the knowledge or even the consent of those who share or have shared our lives, what happens in the long run? And where do we draw the line between humanizing a universal predicament and intruding upon someone else’s privacy? Media professionals are well-versed in the art of drawing those lines — i.e. ethics — but your average internet typist blinded by the lure of easy lucre is not.
Could those shockers we write erode our future intimacy potential by outing us as fundamentally untrustworthy? Who, in their right mind, would allow themselves to get close to someone who cannot be trusted to handle their own narrative with self-respect? Selling off our privacy is one thing when those details belong to us and we choose to share them, but selling off intimacy we have joint-custody of? Could our greedy ways be costing us love?
When sex is no longer seen as human communion but has been reduced to a commodity, it’s not unreasonable to posit intimacy could suffer the same fate. But for all the tools at our disposal, relating and connecting isn’t our strong point; many of us present ourselves as who we wish we were instead of who we are. Therefore no one can ever know anyone; there can be no trust, just two people posturing until one party gets called out on their bullshit. Because of our reliance on technology and an overblown sense of self-importance induced by social media, we may be forgetting how to be real.
We’re so lost about how what it means to be a human in the world we need listicles to tell us how to hack our way into existing, into communicating, into emoting. Grotesque caricatures pandering for attention in the most repellent of ways, we are lonelier than ever, our collective mental health is in shambles, and even masturbation and porn just don’t cut it anymore. We hunger for human warmth and human touch and human solace but still haven’t been able to coax our enormous brains into conjuring it up. So we swipe and click and type our way forward into an ever-growing physical, emotional, and psychological desert.
Much as we love it and need it and cherish it and crave it and always want more than we are getting, can we please forget about sex for a minute? Libido can ebb and flow but intimacy other than nakedness is what holds us together, individually and as partners. Although sex and intimacy are often used as interchangeable terms, they’re not; good sex doesn’t always translate into a bond. We can have exceptional chemistry in our birthday suits yet be quite unable to communicate with one another when we put our clothes on. Conversely, our sex life may have waned but a look or a gesture is all it takes to know exactly what the other person is thinking or feeling. Intimacy is a concerto with many movements, slow, fast, lyrical but the music never really stops. There might be variations on tempo, some impromptu solos, squeaks and busted strings; even when someone shuts out the light, it keeps going.
We don’t need to be vulva virtuosos or penis pipers to achieve intimacy, we just need the willingness to surrender fully to a fellow human. But ours is a culture where we don’t even have the courage to be a blundering ape; instead, we put forward the most improbable curated version of us there is. Ours is a culture where words have come to mean so very little we bare it all on social media whenever we’re desperate for attention. Only we don’t really bare it all, do we? We just sell the illusion that we do, marketing, filtering, and editing any redeeming personality trait we might have had into oblivion. The internet becomes a fun house mirror where humanness is so distorted we cannot recognize it. Be it our own or indeed somebody else’s, not unless there is a reason for us to dig deeper and find out more, something that fuels our curiosity.
Why do we keep trying to commodify all that is human so we can sell it off to the highest bidder while complaining about being lonelier than ever? If using our private lives to make universal human questions relatable is the quickest way to connect with others, how far do we go? And what do we do when we get there, look back, and realize we’ve been walking around in our birthday suits, showing off what we intended to be our fashion sense? How can a fellow human possibly trust us with their dignity when we’re so very careless about ours?
Intimacy cannot grow in an open field subject to the unpredictability of the elements; intimacy needs shelter. It is a house made of bluntness, vulnerability, honesty, and unconditional acceptance under a roof of love. The surrender necessary to its genesis cannot happen without those conditions. Should they come to disappear, intimacy will inevitably follow as it cannot survive without trust. Unlike attention, it is earned and not hijacked, it is nurtured and not manufactured, it is valued but never sold.
Intimacy is an inherently private happening, something we build between four walls, behind closed doors. It can never be entirely captured through words or pictures because it is a language impenetrable to outsiders. The lexicon may be the same but the cultural references are only shared with our partner; pet names and private jokes befuddle everyone else. Now imagine what it would feel like if every second of our lives were played out online, narrated like a soccer match. Imagine what it would feel like if 8 billion people deciced to broadcast their inner dialogue to all others?
By feeding the internet every minute detail of our private lives, we sacrifice trust onto the altar of connectedness. Is there anything more life-affirming than falling asleep holding the hand(s) of the person(s) we love, warm bodies at peace, together? The amount of trust it takes to share a bed with anyone is often overlooked and yet, we are at our most defenseless and vulnerable when at rest. Although we claim to need intimacy, what we crave most of all seems to be an audience to validate our human experience. The temptation to join in the performance along millions of hopefuls in the hope we might get picked out of the chorus line is hard to resist. And anyone who gives in to it eventually becomes addicted to the buzz, in a co-dependent relationship with devices and metrics.
We dream ever bigger dreams of influencing our way to happiness, unaware that the more we reveal, the less there is to discover, get to know, and love.
I’m a French-American writer, journalist, and editor now based in the Netherlands. To continue the conversation, follow the bird. For email and everything else, deets in bio.