*Reach Out and Touch Someone: A Conference on Commercial Intimacy and Personalization*
November 4 and 5, 2021
Center for the History of Business, Technology, and Society
Hagley Library, Wilmington, Delaware
In today’s wired world, marketers have heralded their ability to use apps, social media, and other online spaces to forge relationships with consumers that feel truly personal. Such claims, however, are not new. Marketplace transactions have long been mediated by forms of commercial intimacy that blur the line between the putatively public, rational world of commerce and the private, emotional realm of personal relations. From the warm handshake to the sentiment-laden ad campaign, business interests of all sorts – producers, service providers, distributors, retailers and others – have found ways to soften the profit motive’s harder edges by enveloping it with an aura of affinity. Over time, these tools of “goodwill” became even more crucial as markets expanded to include farther-flung buyers and sellers dealing in new and unfamiliar wares. This conference will explore the broad theme of commercial intimacy from the mid 19th century to the late 20th century.