THEATRE | Riptide’s Project Intimacy

Courtney Conway reviews Project Intimacy from Riptide.

Lockdown’s showed us how much, as human beings, we are dependent on making connections with others. The pervasive digital experience Project Intimacy, developed by Riptide, asks  – can two weeks be enough to build a meaningful connection with a stranger? 

I work for an arts and social change charity, Space2, based in Leeds. Much of our work revolves around combating social isolation. For many, the services we provide combat feelings of loneliness and offer a space to connect with others through activities. Naturally, a project that related to combating social isolation seemed a great thing to get involved in. The project begins with an extensive questionnaire about you and your values, seemingly to gauge a deeper understanding of you as a person. It’s to make a carefully thought-out decision based on you and your interests, and you are asked whether you’d like to be paired with someone who aligns with your values, or someone you could clash with, who may challenge you – an interesting premise for being matched with someone.

Over the course of two weeks, after setting your phone settings to anonymous as to not give anything away or let unconscious bias dictate your conversations, you are paired with a partner from anywhere in the world. You are given a few tasks each day and an allocated time – the tasks are seemingly random. The first tasks are asking often quite intense questions, ranging from what your biggest regret is to your most treasured memory. Over the course of a few days, these change direction, and can be as simple as asking about their day or sharing a favourite song. All these small tasks are designed to build up a level of knowing each other and therefore a level of intimacy and social connection – I have to say tasks such as sharing music together really emphasised how significant these small things are in making us feel that we have a connection and relate to someone.

It wasn’t without its challenges, and we both had to grapple with a significant time difference that interfered with how seamlessly we were able to communicate. Towards the end of the task, we reflected on this time difference together, and I couldn’t help but wonder if it would have been easier with someone in the same time zone. Our moods become far more relaxed in the evenings and, in general, more open to connection and reflection – I could definitely feel that my partner was a little preoccupied as her midday working hours became my winding down time. You also never see your partners picture, leaving you to guess what they might look like, which is an interesting concept as it proves just how instantly we create a picture of someone mentally – I’ll never know if the person I envisaged was anything similar! There’s also the challenge of how much you give away about yourself. Admittedly, people vary in how comfortable they are talking to strangers, and it can be difficult if one person feels vastly different to the others. It shows us the importance of boundaries with strangers, and also how personal this is for everyone. 

So the question is, is two weeks enough to form a meaningful social connection with a stranger? Yes and no. It’s enough to form a connection, and the project showed me how we are able to diversity our digital communications to emphasize this. Sending someone a text might be an idea – but sending someone a voice note, or a film to watch together to discuss afterwards can deepen a connection and create a shared virtual experience between the two of you. Whilst it is no substitute for real-life, human connection, there’s a lot to be said for how quickly we feel we can know someone by an experiment such as this. In our current global situation, it’s comforting to know that we do have the opportunity to connect with others in this way, and something that no doubt many of us will be taking advantage at the minute with our family, friends, or in this case a complete stranger.