Too Close for Comfort: Intimacy, Proximity and Transgression in Location-Based Technology

As location-based technology has become increasingly easier to deploy through smartphones and other digital media, its effects on relationships have become more pervasive. This technology has the potential to fashion new terrain for interaction, in which the virtual and the real merge and their borders become indistinct. Through a wide variety of software, from games to social media applications and online dating websites, the understanding of intimacy and affinity are being affected by the confluence of the virtual and the real. It is not surprising, therefore, that such applications have called attention tonotions of privacy and anxiety over surveillance, while, at the same time, forging new opportunities for socializing, creating relationships based on geographic and virtual proximity and devising unique tools for offline adventure. Clearly, our comprehension of geographic landscape and our relationship to each other within that landscape have been drastically transformed by these technologies.

This paper will examine the motivations and consequences of utilizing location-based technology for social media by closely analyzing the conceits of intimacy and privacy within these networks. Focusing on and comparing widely disparate forms of social media, ranging from the location-based “game” Foursquare to Twitter, Facebook and even traditional email, this paper will endeavor to traverse the relationship between proximity and closeness/intimacy and their ramifications on these forms of relationship-building. Through a series of phenomenological and discursive reports, the paper will endeavor to show that these user interfaces and experiences provide the user with the ability to transgress bounds of propriety and privacy in order to foster relationships with those in geographic proximity to them. These applications ultimately support such relationships not through the creation of trust, but instead by rewarding behavior through the most elemental emotions of glory, jealousy, rivalry and obligation. Furthermore, this paper will propose that while such applications often work within the bounds of heteronormativity, such acts of transgression, while potentially taboo and even dangerous, provide means for transcending traditional notions of inequality when it comes to fostering intimacy on the web.


Maxwell Foxman explores the nature of digital media in everyday life as a PhD candidate at Columbia University. Maxwell received his Master’s from NYU’s Department of Media, Culture and Communication, where he studied social and digital media in the contexts of gamification and location-based technology. Maxwell’s Master’s thesis examined the inherent motivations for engaging in gamified mobile media, specifically how the application Foursquare changed and motivated users’ behavior. However, Maxwell’s interest in the digital everyday extends beyond gamification. He has used social media as a frame of reference to speak about the environment, dating and even the celebrity spectacle at a number of conferences. While completing his Master’s, Maxwell was also a high school teacher at his alma mater, the Rockland Country Day School in Congers, NY, where he helped found an Independent Studies program, which focused on students developing their own curricula based on their personal passions. See more about Maxwell at