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The crisis of intimacy in the age of digital connectivity

The crisis of intimacy in the age of digital connectivity

I am a hybrid, of the halfway generation, neither a digital nor an analog native. My intimate life has coincided, almost exactly, with the arrival of digital connectivity. My wife was born the same month that Bob Kahn and Vint Cerf published A Protocol for Packet Network Intercommunication describing the TCP/IP, which defined the connections that made the internet possible. I can remember the unpacking of the first personal computer in my family home, the eerie lizard-eye green of its primitive screen. I can remember the first email I sent, the first online form I filled out. Technology is the subject of nearly every collective memory I can recall: Where were you when you got your first smartphone? What was the first purchase you made on Amazon? Remember MySpace?

Since my boyhood, the rise of digital connectivity has transformed every human interaction, from buying a sandwich to anal sex. The period has coincided with a crisis of intimacy. A recent survey of 20,000 Americans found that almost half suffered from loneliness, which now qualifies as a chronic public health problem. Narcissism, a related condition, has been rising over 30 years of clinical studies and has become so widespread and so fundamental to all aspects of culture that the question is whether it can properly be identified as a pathology any longer. Social capital, in every form, is in steep decline. Political solidarity is diminishing and fragmentation of all kinds is rising. The borders of ourselves are closing. The borders of our countries are closing.

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