Yearning for Intimacy in Community

INTIMACY IN COMMUNITY is about developing deep, meaningful bonds and a sense of belonging between members through mutual understanding, care, and support. It moves beyond superficial roles and transactions and enables the vulnerable sharing of authentic thoughts, emotions, hopes, and fears.

Talking about intimacy in digital communities, specifically ones where you can’t always see or touch the people you’re talking to, is a tough topic.

Not that we’ll be discussing physical intimacy here, but it is interesting that when searching for resources, you get two types of results: intimacy with god or the sexual, physical type of intimacy.

What we’re talking about here is hardly mentioned in search results and especially seldom in crypto or DAO communities more heavily focused on transactional relationships, brand building, or trustless, verifiable social connections.

When we do feel some semblance of intimacy in the digital, always-on community space, we’re often in smaller, non-speculative group chats with friends that are hardly talked about outside of their containers.

These spaces are created for scale, whether we mean for it or not; that’s just the nature of the internet in 2024.

Many of our fellow community builders come from a career in social media marketing with big brands or Silicon Valley startups who cater to going viral in an effort to raise money, raise awareness, or increase vanity metrics.

Others come from customer service backgrounds or have created a career for themselves, forming governance structures in the cultivation of DAOs or venture capital, or were artists in a past life.

However, intimacy is a messy, unscalable act, as Vicky Gu so eloquently writes in this 2022 interview with designer Jessica Waal. Intimacy is frightening to a community so entrusted with the Future of Finance™️ (cringe) that we shant dare talk about vulnerability or actually act on our authenticity beyond the art we create. Rather, we write think pieces on authenticity for the sake of engagement on social media instead of sharing our deepest, most vulnerable selves out of fear of judgment or being shunned from investor meetings.

AS PLUTO ENTERS AQUARIUS, we see a return to revolution and technological achievement not seen since the last time these stars aligned 246 years ago in 1778. The last 20-year period of this particular alignment saw the American, French, and Industrial Revolutions. We also saw an uptick in optimism, collective action, and technological innovation.

There’s no solid way to understand or begin to comprehend what will happen in the next 20 years, but all I can know for sure is it’ll be a wild ride. The world will undoubtedly look and operate much differently than it does today.

Here, I propose we begin to collectively challenge the way we navigate intimacy in community, especially as we build relationships in an age of AI, digital avatars, and potentially navigating thoughts around digital consciousness.

What if technology felt more like cozy spaces, whispers, a voicemail you play on repeat?

Ephemerality might also have something to say here. I believe Li Jin’s Multi-Hit Wonders is hitting on this very notion.

“…I sense that an alternative path to success in the realm of consumer apps lies beyond the well-worn model of building a “kitchen sink” social giant. An alternative, less obvious, and likely more fun route is to create a series of smaller, transient hits.”

I don’t know about you, but maybe, just maybe, we’re not actually happy about this endless yearning. It’s no wonder Gen Z is aging like milk (I cannot believe I just typed that). I’m not saying they are, but like can you blame them for having a dramatic quarter-life crisis?

It is quite possible that less loneliness could help alleviate the stress we’re all feeling around perpetual uncertainty in our lives.

Have we considered that a combination of our distrust in financial systems, global governance, and cultural estrangement has led us to this place where we have accelerated AI to the point of no return in response to this loneliness and desire for intimacy?

It sounds like AI is the simple solution to companionship, but also consider the upcoming challenges we face against looking into the mirror of AGI as it looks back at us (whenever that may be) and what we have to say for ourselves as parents to this newborn.

BUT IT’S UP TO US to seek out these opportunities for closeness. To build into our routines moments of vulnerability. To release fear.

Slow and deliberate acts of intimacy necessitate letting go of inhibitions. Letting go of relegating our interactions to only discussing brand-relevant guideline-adhering conversations. This is the sharing part of a community.

Again, flagging the utmost importance of consent with this type of intimate bonding experience in communities and talking about it openly within the group will help ease everyone in. Make any concessions, get to talking about it, and celebrate any objections or challenges.

For members, opting in and opting out of discussions is something we don’t talk about enough. Since the majority of web3 is stuck on infrastructure, discussing building something, finances, or coordination to some degree, this very human act of confirming “yes, I want to be here and participate” is quite empowering. And hey, if you no longer want to be in a conversation, there’s no shame in leaving it.

Another problem in crypto communities isn’t just onboarding, it’s offboarding. We don’t offer enough opportunities for members to question whether the space they were (permissionlessly) invited to is still the one for them while still offering ways to return. And no, this offboarding doesn’t mean typing in Discord that a member can just leave the server…

This is all part of facilitating intimacy, trust, and reliability in a welcoming space.

Here are a few prompts we can use to facilitate intimacy (and ones I’m working on using more often):

  1. “Something I don’t want to share is…”

  2. “What’s something you’ve been pretending?”

  3. “I appreciate ____ about you”

These opportunities for deeper connection are the community glue. Even when a lot of our role as community professionals is member support or even customer support, there is intimacy involved here as well.

How many of us started our careers in customer service? I’d venture to guess many have. I started at 16 years old and stayed in some form of support for quite a while. From behind a bakery counter to tech support, there’s a level of softness and endearing nature needed to connect with people that we just get. This should be fostered in our digital communities as well.

GOING DEEPER is part of forming spaces for care. Beyond surface-level conversations about newsletters, price action, or proposals on the latest governance board. To begin building intimate practices into communities, we, as both builders and members, must allow ourselves to be vulnerable beyond the small talk to actively facilitate small group discussions.

Opening the door to sharing needs and desires in our spaces can be a first step to understanding one another. That may look like an “I’m feeling left out, I’d really love some help.” Or even more direct, like, “Hey, I saw you asking for help building ____. Wanna talk about it in a group so it doesn’t feel so scary?”

The subtext here is you don’t want to do it all alone, and no one wants to feel like they’re doing all the emotional labor, which is all too common in communities.

As leaders, as people tasked with going deeper, it’s in our best interest to find creative ways to facilitate this level of connection with members. This is why events exist, preferably with opportunities outside of only super loud, thumpy, bass-heavy music or hacking away on a laptop.

As members of said communities, it is in our best interest to be open to conversations and opportunities to share, to be vulnerable, and to be honest with others.

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