Essays on Technology and Culture

Ambient Noise, Ambient Intimacy

“I don’t think my definition has changed. But the world where that definition made sense has definitely passed,” Reichelt says. “The sense of wonder has kind of gone now, I think.” What’s changed isn’t so much how we interact with others online but the scale at which it happens. “The volume is much greater,” Reichelt says. “Now, keeping up with people non-stop on social media is mundane, not a novelty.”

Reichelt made repeated reference to the increased “noise” online today, a striking contrast with the previous use of “ambient.” Ambient is supposed to be unobtrusive and pleasant, as musician Brian Eno originally defined it. Ambient anything should be “as ignorable as it is interesting,” he wrote in the liner notes to his Ambient 1: Music for Airports. The online socializing that first defined ambient intimacy has since become both unignorable and uninteresting.

—Kyle Chayka, “How Ambient Intimacy Became So Overwhelming”

Our social media is only as obtrusive as we let it be. The problem is that it’s more beneficial to the services we use for this “ambient intimacy” to force themselves deeper into our lives, to nag us and prod us into checking our feeds and posting, so they get more eyeballs to monetize. The only way to reduce the scale of online interactions and bring back the joy is to do it yourself. Turn off notifications, uninstall the apps, set a time, and escape the ambient noise of “social” until you can approach it on your terms.