The potency of intimate media: Making sense of everyday digital media experiences in the Philippines


According to global surveys (e.g. We Are Social, Hootsuite, Global Web Index), the Philippines is one of the heaviest users of social media in the world. It thus provides a suitable context to examine the possibilities of a society constituted by the intense use of digital media in everyday life. How do we make sense of the cumulative experience and use of digital media in the Philippines?

In this paper I describe and explain the nature of contemporary media in the context of a society’s intense use of smart phones and engagements on digital platforms. Drawing upon ethnographic fieldwork in Metro Manila, I propose the term intimate media to describe not just the nature of user engagements but also how they have shaped the potentials of digital media. The Philippine case study suggests how contemporary media affords intimacy through proximity, immediacy and the immersive quality of digital spaces. Proximity refers not only to the nearness of digital devices to our bodies but also to our close virtual social encounters. The immediacy of interactions on digital space is both product and consequence of proximity. In turn, proximity and immediacy predispose users to immersions in digital spaces and experiences that shape their perceptions. Social proximity and immersion produce intimate knowledge and at the same time enable its instantaneous circulation. Intimate media become a potent means of communication and control. Through ethnographic examples, the rest of the paper explores the implications of intimate media, particularly how they configure people’s experience of (failed) intimacy, (fake) news consumption and (toxic) sociality as they use and inhabit social media in everyday life. The paper reflects on how intimate media in the Philippines relate to broader conceptualisations of media power, its consequent contradictory dynamics, and implications in the ethics of intimacy in a mediated world.