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  • Writer's pictureRitchard Allaway

13/07/22 - Finding Remote Intimacy: Going Off Grid

Tues 5th July 2022

Acts of Practice: Removing the self from social media

Must you go off and bury yourself in the middle of polar cold and darkness just to be alone? After all, a stranger walking down Fifth Avenue can be just as lonely as a traveller wandering in the desert.’ (R.E. Byrd 1938)

Lately I have been thinking about that word ‘intimacy’ and what it means to me. Intimacy is defined as:

· Close familiarity or friendship: the intimacy between a husband and wife.

· a cosy and private or relaxed atmosphere: the room had a peaceful sense of intimacy about it.

· euphemistic sexual intercourse.

· [count noun] an intimate remark: here she was sitting swapping intimacies with a stranger.

· [in singular] closeness of observation or knowledge of a subject: he acquired an intimacy with Swahili literature.

Something interesting about describing intimacy as a friendship. I found a friendship between myself and remoteness… a possible realisation that I have a ‘friend’ in this vast landscape. It is though, the singular that I find my interest within, and that knowledge of the subject through observation and closeness.

Intimacy for me is about having that close relationship with oneself or with something singular that is not shared but experienced only through the self. This could be a separate experience between the ‘two’ involved with one side having one intimate experience and the other a different intimate experience. The experience I receive is one that is known through the lived experience or as the singular describes, observation or knowledge of the subject. Notice how I left closeness out of that last description, that is because intimacy is an already closeness. I believe for this text we need to find what the closeness/intimacy is.

Before we go any further, I must state that this text might transcribe as something personal and quite rightly it will come across as such. I will give you my own account (because after all, I want to find my knowledge of intimacy), of my personal experiences.

When I think intimacy, I think about the closeness between two. I instantly think about a shared connection that is of a passion, a love, or a status of euphoric emotion, one I shared with my recent partner of three years. I consider those moments sat on the sofa watching some TV show, or those times of sexual encounters, or walking together enjoying which ever landscape we would be in, and each of those considerations are of a closeness between two people. It is a shared experience within the vicinity of one and other and on agreed terms where words are not the only evidence to testify that intimacy exists between two, but instead the movement of the body, the gaze between eyes, the touch and feel of each other all play their role. I would assume that you would maybe also describe intimacy as these feelings or something of a similar quality. Let’s bring that word ‘closeness’ back, a part of the descriptive of intimacy but the one we knew already existed without having to confirm it. Closeness is as it describes, to be in a proximity of someone or something that is a short distance apart and we see that through those romantic experiences. How then do we connect this to just the singular self and with a landscape or an environment that can resonate remoteness?

In previous blog posts you will have read about my experiences when engaging with the natural landscape. I have talked about a surreal feeling that is of a form of otherness, something that can be of the uncanny, and that is not a negative, it is predominately a phenomenon that is of intimate quality. It is the own experience of something that cannot be quite easily described and one that not everybody experiences. I engage within the landscape; I willingly forgo my body into the environment and partake in a series of experiences at a close/within proximity. Ok, so I am within the landscape, I am close with it, but am I intimately with it? I am certainly not having a romantic relationship with the landscape, but romanticism exists through the aesthetics of the landscape, but it is not the traditional sense of the word relationship. How then do I acknowledge intimacy? I believe that is supported from me being alone within the landscape. If we refer to my earlier comments of two entities (human and environmental space) being together in a shared location, we can develop this referral to evidence how we would confirm intimacy. That would be to state that intimacy occurs when no other external entity interferes with the already existing two entities.

Richard Allaway [re]experiencing intimacy - locations

· RA & North Gare

· RA & Guisborough Forest

· RA & Over Silton

· RA & Greensykes

· RA& Osmotherly

· RA & Sutton Bank

· RA & Westerdale

One idea of late that I am thinking about is how I experience intimacy within a shared location and whether that is a possibility and what is the difference in a shared intimate experience than with a landscape experience?

For this section of the conversation, I will discuss two forms of shared landscape and the content and concepts within them.

1. Urban environment

2. Social environment

The shared urban environment is the built up, man-made, local ecology that I reside within. I live in a rapidly growing borough within a small industrial town in the north-east of England. This location is one that I am very familiar with and know quite easily how to navigate around. The current population of where I reside is set at 20,378 although the town’s population is that of 194,000. I would not suggest that the town is densely populated but I would state my borough is and it is rapidly expanding. As 1 of 20,378 residents how do I locate intimacy within a vast amount of people? This is where I discuss that concept of the shared environment. I want to address the Richard E Byrd reference at the top of this conversation,

‘Must you go off and bury yourself in the middle of polar cold and darkness just to be alone? After all, a stranger walking down Fifth Avenue can be just as lonely as a traveller wandering in the desert.’ (R.E. Byrd 1938)

This quote was what generated my thoughts about how and why I am attempting to re-experience intimacy within a remote landscape. The first line immediately asks [me] why should oneself travel to the ends of the Earth just to locate a type of feeling and/or experience. It is clearly a valid point to put forth but without going into the positives around disappearing to say the Arctic, let us consider this question within a local environment. To disappear to remote locations, takes planning, time and money, things that are not always so easily accessible. What is always accessible is my urban environment. Clearly not the beautiful romantic landscape that I dream of waking up to every morning, but it is ‘my’ landscape. There is a clear closeness to my environment and that is simply because I reside within it, and I have done so for three years. I understand my location and my surroundings, I am able to navigate it freely, I have friendships with my neighbours, and I recognise and understand activities that occur on a regular basis that I perceive. I have personal closeness with this environment, I have intimate experiences with it, but this environment is not just mine, it is shared. With all this interobjectivity how then do I untangle myself from a shared environment and retain intimacy that is not of others?

A stranger walking down fifth Avenue can be just as lonely...’. I am not suggesting that intimacy is loneliness, although factions of it could be recognised as loneliness due to its personal connotations. Walking down the street within my own local environment I walk with myself in an intimate fashion. I do not interact with others; therefore, I am not engaged in a relationship with other beings nor am I considering objects within the environment said others have interacted with. The whole of the environment is shared but each individual within obtains their own personal relationship with it allowing to state that you do not have to distance yourself to a remote location far away when intimacy can be found within local parameters. What a dessert or rain forest etc permits is a confirmed distancing from individuals but at extreme lengths that very little beings will be able to say they have shared that environmental phenomenon.

The social environment (and for the purpose of this text) is not the environment in which I physically socialise within no, I am talking here about the digital social environment. Instagram, Snap Chat, Facebook, Twitter, Tinder, Hitch, these applications I have signed up for and currently populate my phone, although the latter two ‘dating’ apps only recently appeared. These applications are a billion-pound industry and work towards providing a service for each individual need, whichever way that be, either through data collection and monitoring your digital footprint or working towards providing you social connection and information. This market is where contemporary society resides, what was once a youth driven and centred environment is now designed and targeted towards all audiences.

My own experiences with social media first began when I was still in secondary school (circa 1999 – 2004) and MSN messenger was the ‘place’ to be. I used to fight with my sister and brother to access the computer just so I could connect with my friends, friends I had only left behind at school a couple of hours previously. MSN was a basic chat service where I would converse with my friends about many things and at times confess my love to several girlfriends from school because I could hide behind a keyboard... to be fourteen again and in love with every female who would talk to me, (I blame puberty).

MSN was as I say my first taste with social media but sometime in 2004 – 2005, an American entrepreneur, Tom Anderson became my ‘friend’, and I was introduced to Myspace. Myspace (for those who do not know what it was) was the real first form of social media that gave you a profile platform. You could create a biography about yourself, share your thoughts, make friends, connect with friends, discover new music, become a social media ‘star’, many of the current sectors of social media that we see today. Myspace was at the forefront of the social environment and my God, I loved it! My parents went on a weeklong holiday, and I was supposed to be studying and attending college (Cleveland College of Art and Design) whilst they were away, but instead I skipped college just to sit on Myspace all day (and night). I was addicted to the thing, and I can still picture my sister telling me off and sharing her concerns for me that week as I sat there staring at the screen waiting for ‘friends’ to appear. Myspace was where I was introduced to wider friendship groups, not just within my local parameters, but across the UK and at times I would take a train to meet people. Amy from Reading, we shared the same interest in ska music and talked for hours every day, we confessed our love for one and other and then one day I went to visit her. The one and only time we ever met, and I remember the first time I saw her, she was real, but her picture to me became like a celebrity. It is that feeling when you see a face so much so that when you see them in public, something is not quite right, surreal almost. Myspace was making me explore more individuals, and with no concern I connected to people for hours at a time not considering my safety or the safety of others. I was seventeen – eighteen years of age and social media was a part of my lifestyle. Alongside Myspace, Twitter, Bebo, Hi5 entered my social parameters and although I never really bonded with these platforms as much as I did with Myspace, I did just so helplessly accept them and put myself into their social environments.

Social media has been with me for twenty years and I still connect with it. I do not populate social environments as I once did, as I deactivated my Facebook account a couple of years back. A decision I made because I was starting to understand that I did not care to read other people’s thoughts and share the same opinions, Facebook became a dangerous place. It was easy to be aggressive towards others with a couple of presses on the keyboard and with no considerations towards people’s feelings. I became bombarded with hate at times, and I knew that the Facebook environment was not a social space I wanted to remain within. With my addiction to social connection, I found it difficult at first to disconnect but over the years that have gone by, I am in a happier place not retaining a digital Facebook profile.

A short story about not having a Facebook account: during the years I did not have a social media presence, several of my friends got engaged, even married, one couple had a baby, and I was not informed, I had spoken to these couples in person, and they failed to mention their activities. One couple (and this has stuck with me ever since) said to me, ‘well it was on Facebook that we announced our engagement, and the wedding invite was sent over social media’. They did wonder why I was not at the wedding. Quite scary when you think about that situation and mind set, but also this is nothing to be shocked about because that is how this shared environment connects with each other. Digital applications are humanities way of connecting, whether that be for a quick chat or to organise a business meeting etc, social media is a dominating factor in our lives and it is only to expand with Mark Zuckerberg's META universe.

Before I go any further with my thoughts on social environments, I will break down below the applications that currently populate my phone and the reasons behind them.

Twitter – I removed this application many years ago and only when I began my PhD did I re-download it. My presence on Twitter is very minimal and it is for professional reasons, to connect with artists and people within my research parameters. I will occasionally search #SWFC to check up on any Sheffield Wednesday FC news, but I leave no comment or trace of me being present within that search parameter.

SnapChat – This application is a shared environment with my close friends and a few extra people I talk to from time to time. Snapchat for me is a safe environment where I can choose what I want to see and somewhere I find myself laughing to hilarious videos my friends will send across to me.

Facebook – I stated I deleted this application many years ago, and I did do that. Unfortunately, the football club I play for connects and organises training and matches through this social space. I created an account under the name of RAGK and I do not have any ‘friends’ or connections on there. No notifications come through and there is no trace of my profile. I state I will be at training and at matches when my manager shares the posts.

Tinder/Hitch – both dating sites that are a rebound to my relationship coming an end. These are applications I do not enjoy but myself needs connection, which is interesting when I sit here discussing my distaste in social connections. My battle to delete these applications has strengthened over the past couple of weeks and so they have been removed.

Instagram – Now the main one, the social environment I share most of my digital profile. I currently own three Instagram accounts. One for fitness, where I share my ‘blog’ (diary_of_a_skinny_man) about trying to gain weight. Several years ago, I was annoyed with how I looked and how much I did not weigh, and so I wanted to share with others who struggle to gain weight how it can be done. My second account (the_black_tau) is a Warhammer specific account that showcases my love for all things Warhammer and that is it. I do not connect with anyone or anything outside of the hobby. My account has nearly acquired three thousand followers and at first, I felt happy and surprised, was I on the way to becoming some form of nerd influencer? With this, I had to keep churning out content regularly to accumulate hundreds of likes (thousands at times) but over the past six months I have begun to take a step back and reduce my footprint on this page. I felt the reasons for making Warhammer a hobby for me was leaving me and it was becoming a task to please others. I now only connect to The_Black_Tau from time to time. My first Instagram account (Ritchard_Allaway_art_practice) is one I have had for eight years. It only showcases my artwork or the work of others I experience. I connect with thousands of people within the arts and outside of the arts so much so I follow six thousand accounts. I am currently trying to reduce my following accounts and each day I unfollow the maximum accounts you can without Instagram thinking you are a bot. I will explain my decision to do this in the next paragraph.

My thoughts on social media have mostly been within a negative mindset over the past couple of years and because of this I have started to remove my presence from these digital environments. I am not too sure exactly why my thoughts reside within a negative parameter around social environments or maybe I should reword that thought, I have an accumulation of thoughts, but no one is the definitive reason. I know my mindset is now in a place in which it is making the decision for me to leave these social environments and aim towards reconnecting with my own personal/intimate environments. I am not to overly keen on working my way through images of accounts that I take no interest within and if I do have some interest it is but little. I do not intend to come across here sounding selfish and careless but my once interest in social realms has dwindled and I find comfort in my own self.

Let me place this within my research field and within the context of this blog. If I was to remove myself from social environments, am I in turn promoting intimacy with oneself? To step ‘off the grid’ will I disconnect from the shared environment? Am I encouraging remoteness? I therefore plan to disconnect from a social (digital) environment in which I will remove all my applications from my phone and deactivate my accounts. I will view this as an act of practice that will feed into my research inquiry. This course of action will be performed over the period of thirty days, with the potential to be extended. What I will be looking to discover is to know how the removal of a social environment can encourage intimacy with oneself and a non-shared environment. Alongside this I will question how I discover and experience remoteness within my local parameter and how I have navigated such phenomena. The experience(s) and findings will be documented through journal writing and a published blog entry.

Byrd, R.E (1938). Alone. New York: G.P Putman's Sons. p6.

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