Tom Hawkins

Tom Hawkins

Techy fella in the South

Tom Hawkins · Digital Intimacy

Digital Intimacy

Bournemouth University Graduate Project



“Digital Intimacy” is an interactive installation bridging between the physical and digital form. The installation aims to visualise the concept of how deindividuation and assumption can highlight similar traits between users of a network, who are unknown to eachother, and cause a heightened sense of likeness.

The installation is built using the Microsoft Kinect, which controls a Java application built in the Processing IDE. In one thread, the app continuously scans twitter for the relevant hashtag, and downloads tweet attributes which are then dumped to a database, using PHP and MySQL. Simultaneously, the other thread tracks the user distance, which controls the type of data being visualised, using HTTP GET requests to retrieve the relevant JSON data from the back-end.

Video Trailer



The installation will consist of a screen, a computer running the software, a projector to display the image, and a kinect camera to track the distance of the user. Engagement with the installation is intended to occur as follows. The user will approach the area, and upon detection the screen will initialise with the 3rd set of data. As the user moves through different distance thresholds, the software cycles through the different datasets. Upon reaching the closest point, the user will be prompted to tweet to the installation, in order to add their image to the datasets.

Due to limitations of the Twitter API however, it could take around 12 seconds for the data to be updated with the user’s contribution. However, once done so, the user will be able to walk backwards and exit the installation, seeing their image represented within the datasets, and the other users that they have common attributes with.





Computer-Mediated Communication

The field of computer-mediated communication research deals specifically with digitally mediated platforms, and recognises them as completely individual of traditional means of communication - including common traits, styles of communication and types of behaviour that arise from this. I focused in particular on the use of social cues in order to transmit and interpret additional information in a communicative exchange, when traditional physical cues are not available (such as on social media).

Cues filtered out vs SIDE theory

Traditionally, it was argued that a lack of physical cues (such as body language, gestures, expression) resulted in a significantly poorer quality of communication on computer-mediated platforms. However, a new school of thought pioneered by academics such as Joseph Walther suggests that when these traditional cues are unavailable in said platforms, users will assign meaning and make interpretations of alternative cues, such as the length of time it takes somebody to reply, their use of emoji symbols ( :), :(, :S ), or capital letters. Additionally, Walther posits that users can assign meanings to certain cues that become common in particular groups of people to make deductions about their communicative behaviours regarding their personality.

It has also been suggested that the identification of salient social groups through some shared traits, such as the number of friends they have and the times they are online, results in deindividuation and subsequent grouping of other users online, resulting in quick and broad classification in such vast and anonymous platforms. This phenomena, in abstract terms, is what “Digital Intimacy” aims to illustrate.

Primary Research

In order to verify some of these claims in a contemporary context, I carried out primary research in the form of interviews with Tinder users, in full-time education, between the ages of 18 and 25. Results found confirmed some of the hypotheses and introduced some new ones, and this has been incorporated with other secondary research as outlined above to form a theoretical foundation on which this work is produced. A full version of the dissertation will be available on this site later this year.


Development Environment

The installation has been built using the Processing IDE 3.0.2, running on Linux Mint 17.3, and is being displayed at the exhibition using a Kinect camera (version 1414), Core 2 Quad Workstation, projector, and screen.


Kinect 1414 Thinkpad X201 AMD FX8350/ 6GB/ HD5770


Front-end software

Written in Java, the application runs two threads. One continuously tracks the distance using the IR feature of the Kinect - when the depth value falls between a given threshold a switch is set to trigger a change in the dataset being displayed, which in turn constructs relevant GET requests to retrieve the required data, in the JSON format. Returned as arrays, the program iterates through these and uses the parameters to construct and display images that the user sees on the screen.

The other thread runs on a 12 second timer, in order to meet the Twitter API rate-limit restrictions. Every loop, the program checks to see if the timer is at less than 12 seconds since the program started, and as soon as it is not, makes an API call to return the latest tweet meeting the criteria, and adds another 12 seconds to the timer in order for the check to continue running. Each time a call is made, the program checks to see if the new tweet is different to the one currently stored, and if it is, only then will it write the details to the database, in order to avoid populating it with duplicates.

Back-end software

Various functions are written using PHP and MySQL to deal with the receipt of GET requests from the Java application, to both dump and retrieve data from the database. PHP also deals with JSON encoding.

Social Media

Behance offers a comprehensive way of displaying and categorising digital work - and my profile can be found here . LinkedIn is a crucial way of keeping a record of professional experience which works well for networking with relevant professionals in your field - my profile can be found at the top of this page and here. Lastly, Twitter is key for keeping up to date on the latest information regarding a profession, as well as following relevant figures or companies; and my profile is here.

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