Extimacy: When Intimate Information is Made Public

12 January, 2021
In our current reality, people share intimate information in their social networks. If you don't do this, you don't exist, and having visibility in this virtual world is, for some, almost more important than having a presence in the real world.

Nowadays, it’s common to see people sharing intimate things for the world to see. Almost without realizing it, we’ve all become daily voyeurs of other people’s lives. After all, everyone posts what they do on social media. This is known as extimacy, which is the act of making private information public. This is completely transforming people’s way of understanding the world.

Let’s face it. Nowadays, it’s very easy to post that thought or idea you just came up with, what you’re having for breakfast, or the music you’re listening to at the moment. If everyone does it, why shouldn’t you? New technologies have built a common and shared sphere, where everyone’s a discreet exhibitionist.

Sharing or publishing private information isn’t only a way to create a community with those who also do it. Making your private life public makes you visible and gives you a presence in a technological and digital scenario, which has become incredibly attractive in the last years, especially for young people.

Extimacy is here to stay. Below, we’ll talk a bit more about it, what it consists of, and why it’s so common.

What’s extimacy and how does it manifest?

The word extimacy was coined by French psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan. For him, this concept represented a state where human beings are defined by having certain intimate areas that only make sense in the external world. For example, the unconscious is an internal psychic state that always ends up exteriorizing itself.

French psychiatrist Serge Tisseron took this Lacanian term and applied it to today’s modernity. As of today, excitement isn’t a state but a process in which new technologies drive individuals to show a part of their private lives to the public sphere (specifically in the digital world). Does this mean that people have become exhibitionists?

Not quite. In reality, everyone chooses what they want to show and often post things that aren’t even real. Individuals are selective on what they choose to make public. In fact, they choose how, when, and where to show it. Remember that people aren’t what they show on social media.

A mobile phone taking a picture.

Extimacy: a resource to achieve genuine connections

We all like to see what other people are doing. We’re interested in looking at other people’s daily lives to discover, see, understand, yearn, admire, learn, and even envy. However, we also like feeling emotions. Extimacy is an ideal resource to create an emotional impact on observers, on those who use screens to enter other people’s world.

Big brands, network gurus, and Instagrammers know that a great way to attract followers is by letting people into their private lives. Everyone’s learned this by now. As a result, increasingly more people are joining the bandwagon of revealing intimate parts of their lives to their followers. Another big reason for doing this is that it creates empathy, which makes them “relatable” in a way.

However, remember that extimacy often goes hand in hand with fakeness. Most of the time, you don’t see a person’s reality but what they decide to show and what they want to represent themselves as.

Sharing private aspects to make yourself visible

The digital scene, networks, and social media form a parallel reality. Smartphones, e-mail, chats, and messaging systems are scenarios in which people want to have a presence. In order to do this, they must practice extimacy.

Making your private life public places you in an alternate world where you can create a new self and be whoever you want. People feel that, if they don’t do this, they simply don’t exist.

Extimacy and the fixation on immediacy

As of now, we could define extimacy by a very particular characteristic: immediacy. Having breakfast with my partner. On my way to work. Meditating. It only takes a few seconds to go on social media and start seeing what people are doing right there and then. That’s what matters most. What happened yesterday is now irrelevant.

Currently, what most of us long to “consume” or see is what’s happening this very second.

A man practicing extimacy.

The stolen privacy or the intimacy that we reveal without even knowing it

Most of us post photos, videos, ideas, and thoughts on a voluntary basis. In other words, we all make public small pieces of our private universe in a conscious but filtered way. However, at times, we overlook the fact that there’s another type of camouflaged extimacy.

Smartphones, tablets, and laptops have cameras and microphones. The apps you use and the social networks you sign up for have algorithms and bots that analyze everything you’re doing in these digital worlds. Believe it or not, you’re being observed, listened to, and analyzed.

Your privacy is made public due to the inherent danger of a technology aimed at collecting as much information about you as possible to sell it to large companies. In other words, your private information isn’t only made public but marketed with.

In short, we’ve reached a point where the intimate and the public are becoming excessively diluted, which is risky if you think about it. Keep this in mind and reflect on the extent to which extimacy benefits or harms you.

  • Alain Miller, Jacques (2010) Extimidad. Paidós