“Are you Katy M?” a young man meekly asks a young woman standing outside a convenience store.
“I’m the only one standing here, aren’t I?” the woman responds.
“Right, sorry. Ok — get in.”
Katy M. gets inside the man’s car. The two sit in silence as the man drives to a secluded, abandoned airport twenty minutes outside town.
Upon arrival, the man shuts down the vehicle. He looks at the woman. The woman looks back at the man. The man begins to cry. The woman comforts and soothes him. They continue for the scheduled thirty minute session.
This is the story of a man who purchased a weekly subscription to Emotional Intimacy™.
This may seem bizarre. But I believe we’re all investors in the emotional intimacy market.
Think of Instagram as a marketplace for emotional intimacy. In the grand scheme of things, Facebook is buying and selling your attention and data. But what are you buying and selling? Let me tell you: Likes and comments are your fiat currency that gets converted into emotion — pride, excitement, confidence, sometimes anger or self-doubt. Then, those emotions are converted into the final commodity — dopamine and serotonin.
Think of OnlyFans. In case you didn’t know, porn is free. So what are people really buying on OnlyFans? Intimacy. No, not that kind of physical intimacy — you can buy that in a city near you. Emotional Intimacy is far more rare. On OnlyFans, you can pay for a creator to give you special attention, compliments, affection. Maybe it’s surface level, maybe it’s fake. People are still paying.
Economists like to assume that we’re perfectly rational, utility-calculating machines. This isn’t the case! We deal in human emotion every day. If this is at least partially true to the way society runs, how far can emotion alone take someone? Could we stop trading in dollars, likes, comments, fake smiles, connections, IOUs and favors, and begin trading directly in raw emotion?
These days, it’s rare to come by authentic, unfiltered levels of empathy, transparency, presence, compassion, excitement, sorrow, rage or ambition. I don’t know about you, but I’d prefer your genuine anger to a dose of fake sympathy. You may have heard the story of the man who traded his way up from a red paperclip to a house. What if you could trade your way up from some antagonism, impatience and vanity to the presidency? Plenty of powerful people ride the waves of human emotion.
Still, if you try to offer your landlord “empathy” instead of rent, you’ll end up homeless (exceptions apply). The point is that real emotional intimacy can take you far. Try it! Become an alchemist of emotional intimacy. Mix brutal honesty and pure kindness with a splash of gentleness and a touch of fury. Then, observe what happens under different conditions. Keep experimenting! Test your hypotheses against the world. Raw emotion is the one thing you can offer people when you don’t have anything else — no money, no resources, no connections. Your heart and hormones can still take you far — a teardrop, a smile, a gaze, a voice crack, a compliment. Do not manipulate people. It’s wrong, and you won’t last. You’ll go further with your authenticity, anyway. To be insincere is to be an emotional cheapskate. Trump’s animosity and egotism were sincere.
Perhaps you’re thinking, “I don’t need to provide raw emotion as currency. I have skills to offer people.” Maybe you do, but not for long.
“I can code in spanish, juggle, meditate and listen to the a16z podcast all at the same time!”
That’s great, but the guy I have coming in right after you can code in mandarin while surfing. And he’ll be irrelevant soon, too! Robots — powered by intelligent algorithms and fueled by data — will eventually take your job and mine (and I don’t even have a job). Your “skills” won’t stand a chance.
But, robots will replace doctors, lawyers, software engineers and even politicians before they can provide authentic emotional intimacy. I’m not saying they won’t get there, but I have a feeling (no pun intended) that it’ll take longer. Plus, even if the technology is ready, the culture will have to catch up — it will be easier for people to accept robot doctors than robot lovers.
If you squint, you can see Mr. Future running toward us. It’s still hard to tell if he’s holding a white flag or a gun.
Whether Mr. Future comes in peace or not, he’ll still take your job. So, I think you’d be wise to spend more time transforming yourself into the most emotionally authentic, conscious, aware human being you can be than to spend your days learning how to speak Java or read latin.
Build a foundation! Get values, religion — something — so you’re not living in a straw house when and if the big bad wolf comes around to take your job and your kids. Your emotions are your natural resources. Start mining. Now! Get to know the territory before the voice of the crowd — or the voice of the algorithm — convinces you to shut down the mines.
You have to know yourself and your emotions before you can share them with others. Start digging.