University of Tasmania

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Uncovering : the role of social technologies in intimate life

posted on 2024-06-05, 02:22 authored by Lyndsay NewettLyndsay Newett

Intimate life is an area of social life that impacts us all. First garnering sociological attention in the mid-twentieth century, the aspects of intimate life that are of interest to researchers, and theorists, have changed over time. With the emergence of social technologies: mobile media, and the social media platforms (i.e., platforms) and smartphone applications (i.e., apps) these devices accommodate, greater focus has been given to the role, and the impact, such technologies have in relation to aspects of intimate social life.
This thesis centres on the roles, and the impacts, that different social technologies can have with respect to ‘intimate’ or ‘romantic’ relationships, and intimate life activities like dating and hooking up. Specifically, it centres on platform and/or app use within the context of relationships, and the intimate life activities that are undertaken by millennials – individuals born between the late 1970s and the year 2000 – living in, or from, Australia. While substantial focus has been given to this cohort’s use of platforms and/or apps, Australian studies have generally explored singular social technologies, or specific classes of social technologies (e.g., dating and/or hook up apps). As such, less attention has been given to the use of multiple social technologies in the context of intimate life. Additionally, late twentieth century sociological theorisations of intimate life are underutilised in recent analyses of social technologies, and intimate life pursuits.
This thesis aims to address these gaps by identifying the platforms and/or apps that can be engaged by millennials in their intimate lives; investigating why, and how these technologies can be utilised by millennials; and by exploring what this use means for millennials, and within the context of sociological frameworks of intimate life developed by Anthony Giddens (1992), Ulrich Beck and Elisabeth Beck-Gernsheim (1995), and Zygmunt Bauman (2003). To do this, a mixed-methods study involving an online survey, and semi-structured interviews, was undertaken. The survey was completed by respondents with a mean age of 25.8 (SD = 5.19) throughout Australia, while interviews were conducted with millennials between the ages of 19 and 35, in the states of Tasmania, Victoria, and New South Wales. Data was collected before the COVID-19 pandemic, from 2017 to 2019.
Findings from this study show intimate life in the digital era often involves the use of multiple social technologies, with participants engaging platforms and apps as a result of 1) their intimate life circumstances; 2) their understandings of the technologies; and/or 3) the normalisation of the technologies. Despite this, the approaches to social technology use that became evident during thematic data analysis indicate that technology use within the context of intimate life tends to centre around a singular social technology. In fact, of the three approaches identified – the intentional approach, the opportunistic approach, and the exploratory approach – only one, the exploratory approach, is characterised by the use of multiple platforms and/or apps. Consequently, while different social technologies make up the intimate lives of millennials, findings suggest that one technology is likely to contribute to this area of social life, and/or intimate life experiences, more than others. However, which technology becomes the most used for intimate life pursuits does vary between individuals.
As well as approaches to platform and/or app use within intimate life, findings from this study highlight the speed at which aspects of intimate life occur in the digital era, with study participants noting the ability they feel social technologies give them to make judgement calls, to get action, and to commit to others, fast. Though these outcomes appear to be unique to intimate life in the digital era, other experiences highlighted by participants are not. Instead, trends and themes emerging from the data reflect the freedom, flexibility, and uncertainty embedded in Giddens’ (1992) portrayal of intimate life as an ‘open project’; the promises associated with Beck and Beck-Gernsheim’s (1995) depiction of emotional life as ‘a search’; and the transactions and exchanges that underpin Bauman’s (2003) account of this area of social life as ‘a form of consumption’. As such, I argue that social technologies, and aspects of social technology use, can be situated within the frameworks of Giddens (1992), Beck and Beck-Gernsheim (1995), and Bauman (2003).



  • PhD Thesis


xiii, 304 pages


School of Social Sciences


University of Tasmania

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