Modern dating

The telephone cut off the absolute need for face-to face discussions, yet society thinks nothing of this today. Rather the telephone is one of the most important forms of communication in our daily lives. After the telephone came the television. Children would come home from school excited because it was time for their favorite show. Parents were worried. Their children were no longer playing with their neighborhood friends. The “Power Rangers” replaced Andy next door, Saturday morning was for “The Smurfs” or “Saved By the Bell,” not Jenny and Tammy down the street. Television was ‘rotting the brain,’ it was ‘replacing’ socialization. Now the same can be said for computers. Those same kids are racing home to the Internet. They are logging on to their favorite chat rooms and talking to their friends from Australia or South Africa.

With the telephone there was still the ability to engage in personal conversations, but the value of talking face-to-face was diminished. Television is an idle medium. There is no direct interaction, rather children and adults sit and stare at a screen. The Internet brings back interaction, but at the cost of intimacy. The person at the other end of the conversation is a screen, a typed sentence, a random name. There is no voice, no human qualities. Nothing to indicate this is actually a living, breathing being. The progression is there; the move away from personal communication started before most of us were even born. We depend on the telephone. We can’t get enough of television, and we are becoming a society that relies on the benefits of electronic communication: to set up business meetings or check the stock market; to reserve an airline ticket; to research a paper; or even to try and meet that special someone.

Interaction is important. Sometime in life everyone has to deal with someone else face to face. We gain these experiences originally from our childhood friends. We learn how to react to the situations we face personally or find ourselves witnesses to, by learning to read the other person’s expressions and body language, by reacting to them, not only their words, and by learning to present ourselves a certain way depending on the situation. As John Suler, Ph.D. writes,

By their very nature, humans love to communicate. They love to express themselves. They love to explore subtlety in communicating and expressing themselves. (Suler, Communicative Subtlety in Multimedia Chat)

With Internet Dating, a person does not walk into a bar or a club and see someone they like. One enters a chat room, says “hi” and is immediately bombarded with, “Are you m or f?” “What do you look like?” and “How old are you?” In a ‘real life’ club, the pick-up line, “Hello, how old are you?” would be met with an incredulous stare, followed by the recipient of the line walking far away. Yet, this same phrase is not only accepted in a chat room, it is expected.

The loss of face-to-face communication also can imply an increase in apathy for others. Sara Pitman discussed this in her article, “From Keyboards to Human Contact.” She mentions briefly a site which allows users to break up relationships through e-mail, “How to Dump Your Mate Electronically.” While she gives no address for the site in reference, she describes it as “filling out a standard form” which is then sent to someone’s e-mail address. The Internet certainly does have the ability to eliminate emotions. As Debbie in West Virginia says, “You can’t hold hands over the computer.” (Women’s Wire News).

Demonstration of feeling the way it used to be understood does not exist in Cyberspace. Both Debbie and Pitman show

the coldness of which this medium is capable. For ‘breaking up’ is reduced to the mere punching of a few keys and all contact is severed. (Pitman).

However, Cyber-relationships do not have to be emotionless. While “sensory options are not nearly as numerous or versatile” (Suler, Communicative Subtlety in Multimedia Chat) on the web, this ‘subtlety’ is not necessarily absent. It simply requires a redefining of the display of emotion or feeling:

When immersed in a medium that places some restrictions on paths to communicate, humans get downright clever and creative in overcoming the barriers. (Suler, Communicative Subtlety in Multimedia Chat).

In “real” life, the word, ‘hi’ can be said numerous ways to indicate a variety of feelings; happy, excited, dejected, upset, worried, guilty, the list is endless. On the web, users must creatively display these same feelings using various symbols. For example, a casual “hi” to the entire room, can acceptably be typed < hi >. However, if greeting a specific person, that particular message is weak and without enthusiasm. To a friend it may indicate a dejected tone, and would indicate there may be something wrong. The use of exclamation points, < hi!! > adds excitement to the tone of the message. Often gestures are indicated to accompany phrases. One could smile and say hi, <hi!! *smile*=””>or similarly hug or kiss a person. Emotion is not necessarily eliminated, rather redefined.

One important aspect of the Internet is the move from emphasis on appearance to emphasis on internal qualities. The Internet is based on conversation, the ability to communicate. It forces people to meet by what they have in common, and by what they can talk about.

An electronic relationship is often chosen over a ‘real’ life one because of the strong communication that develops between a couple. Most relationships on the Internet begin as friendships and are thus completely based on communication…electronic love is centered around and focuses upon strong communication. (Pitman).

Communication is essential. Cee-Cee in Wisconsin supports this, “I think that the Internet is a good and safe way to meet people…It’s about communication and people trying to learn about other people’s cultures and background.” (Women’s Wire News). We have become a society dominated by looks, and the value of good conversation is often lost. Beauty queens and models rule the media, and women are always striving to attain that level of appearance. When socializing, the initial attraction to any person is physical appearance. When surfing the web, the initial attraction is personality. “Computer communications shifts the importance of a first meeting from physical appearance to an emphasis on communication.” (Pitman). Physical attraction is important. However, so is being able to communicate, or to get along.

Because society places so much emphasis on appearance, web relationships often tend to contain that physical attraction in the form of fantasies or created images and ideas of the other person. If this is altered by a picture, does that, or should that change the attraction already in place? Amanda in Tennessee writes, “I believe the best part is actually meeting someone for their personality, rather than their physical appearance.” (Women’s Wire News). While this is a great theory, unfortunately it is rarely the actual case. Attraction diminishes once two people meet, despite what happens. One participant in an Interview I conducted with members of the Porn Byus Chat Room described the first time he had met someone over the Internet.

I was supposed to meet her at this restaurant. She had described herself as a petite blond, green eyes, the whole works. So yeah, I had an image in my head, an image I liked. And when I got to the restaurant, I guess I was really disappointed. She was small, but kind of pudgy…and she had brown hair. Well, she certainly didn’t look like what I had expected. (Mark, Interview).

Mark goes on to admit he had really good time, but could never get over her appearance, and so the romance ended. Society will never fully move away from physical appearance, and why should it? However, the web emphasizes the importance of other qualities, as well. It opens an opportunity for people to find that attraction through interesting conversation and common interests, not just the blond haired, blue-eyed beauty.

Cyberdating also requires some degree of trust. For those who take the Internet seriously, that is they enter every situation with the intention to possibly form some sort of a lasting relationship, trust is as important online as it is in everyday social situations. In the same chat room interview, this idea of trust was discussed in length. One participant, Magician, was waiting for his “lover,” but agreed to answer my questions in the interim. “Walk into any bar,” he responded, “do you implicitly trust what each person tells you?” (Magician, Interview). This possibly defines the boundaries which serious users of this medium follow. Trust on the web is no different than trust in a bar or club.

People guard information that is personal. Seeing, unfortunately for much of society, is believing. Society often sets its limits on trust to be what is visible. Unfortunately, there is as much deceit with what we can see, as there with what we can’t. “Cyber-guys could not be any creepier than some of the ones I have met live and in person,” offers Emily in Alabama. (Women’s Wire News). If someone is determined to deceive, the chances are good that they know how to appear trustworthy and honest. They know what makes others ‘trust’ them, and they act accordingly. Being able to see someone, does not ensure a correct assessment of character.

Of course, it may be easier to deceive via the Net in some ways. “Androgyny rules the net!” insists Vivienne in Cape Town. (Women’s Wire News). There is no absolute method to determine sex in text-only chat rooms, and gender swapping is a reality. In fact, gender swapping may be “much more commonplace than we realize.” (Suler, Do Boys Just Wanna Have Fun). Dr. Suler tells of Brad and Natalie, Brad, a college senior on the east coast, and Natalie, a junior on the west coast. Their relationship progressed over time via the Internet and e-mail. “When (Brad) finally suggested…that he give her a phone call, the truth came crashing down on his head. Natalie confessed to being a 50 year old man.” (Suler, Do Boys Just Wanna Have Fun). Annie in Australia offers her own story, “I have a friend who decided to meet a woman he had met online, at a computer conference in Prague, and when he went to pick her up at the airport, he found out that she was actually a transvestite..” (Women’s Wire News, Online). Dr. Suler suggests the idea that gender-swapping is not entirely without function.

[It gives the] opportunity for people to experiment with their identity…to see how the other half lives…It provides an attractive opportunity to experiment, abandon the experiment if necessary, and safely try again, if one so desires. More and different types of people are going to try it than in ‘real life.’ (Suler, Do Boys Just Wanna Have Fun, Online).

Suler describes this idea as the “beauty” of being capable of gender-swapping. Experimentation is important for gaining a more complete understanding of the relationship between genders. A male impersonating a female will be treated as such, and therefore can gain insight as to how women are treated from the female perspective. The same would be true of a female impersonating a male. Pitman also discusses the possibility to “lead another life as a completely different person on the Internet.” (Pitman). For many people, this gender switching has a specific purpose. Suler outlines the probable reasons: the difficulties of exploring oneself, given various pressures associated with societal stereotypes; the need to draw attention and be noticed (as it is often easier to do this as a woman); to investigate relationships, whether for the purpose of enhancing their own, or the unfortunate purpose of learning how to dominate and gain power; or for the exploration of homosexual feelings or tendencies. (Suler, Do Boys Just Wanna Have Fun). There are also some who opt to disguise themselves as someone else purely for the ‘enjoyment’ of deceiving others.

For those who still require visual reinforcement, the capabilities of the web support this. It is becoming more of a reality to see avid users with personal home pages which may include some type of picture or biographical information. “When users do present pictures of their real faces, it may be a gesture of honesty and/or intimacy – a sign of friendship, or even romance.” (Suler, The Psychology of Avatars…). Additional offerings such as an e-mail address, home address, or even a home phone number, are usually more serious displays of trust, just as inviting someone into one’s residence in a “real life” situation may mean a more serious interest or commitment. During one online conversation I had, the person to whom I was speaking offered me a web site address that I could go to, which showed his picture, and biographical information. Being able to see who one is speaking to takes away from the fantasy aspect, and makes the relationship more “realistic” to many people.

Why is cyberdating so popular? It is easily accessible and it is alluring, especially to those who may be unhappy with what choices they have been offered otherwise. Also, it offers an opportunity to escape from one’s ‘normal’ personality or everyday life. It is “simple to separate the computer world from your daily experience because of the distance involved.” (Pitman). The web allows users to ‘get away’ from it all, to act some way either they do not normally, or cannot normally because of circumstances. People also tend to be “more open and confident when they meet new people” (Pitman) on the web. Possibly the most alluring aspect is the anonymity the Internet provides. In the same interview of the Porn Byus Chat room, I specifically asked what it was that attracted people to Cyber relationships, and not necessarily Cybersex. From the males, more frequently I was informed that it was unhappiness, loneliness, the need for attention, or ego that led to the frequenting of such rooms. The women, however, responded that it was the “connection that’s intimate yet distant, no strings, freedom.” (Candi, Interview). The type of response I received from the women is typical of how men are depicted in society through movies and television. While it is not necessarily true, it is the men who are more frequently depicted as capable of “loving and leaving,” and valuing excitement or importance of one’s “bachelorhood.” And yet when given the opportunity to respond anonymously, the men showed the emotion, while the women showed the need for detachment in a relationship. Maybe, then it is the ability to let down those stereotypical barriers and be who you want to be, not who everyone expects you to be, that attracts people.

The result of anonymity is often an illusion of privacy. Because users are random names, and there is no attachment to their actual selves, they begin to feel safe within their own cyberworlds. The existence of private chat lines only adds to this. Sending private messages, or ‘PM’s’ as they are known all over the chat world, is a way for two people to communicate private information without the entire room hearing what they have to say. Private lines, however, are not always private. In the Porn Byus Chat Room, the function to ‘clone’ other users is simple to learn. The room does not disallow a nickname because someone else is presently using it. If, for instance, while Lucy and John are having a conversation the general chat room, a third party enters and decides to “clone” Lucy, he/she simply types ‘Lucy’ when asked to select a nickname. Anything that person types from that point on will appear under Lucy’s name. Generally a clone’s main intention is to receive a reaction from the person being cloned, or from the other users. Clones will make remarks in reply to something previously said to the person they are cloning. Clones are, therefore, usually fairly easy to discern. The problem they do create is not so much what they are saying on the screen, as most people tend to ignore those comments, but, rather, the effect clone’s have on PM’s. When John sends Lucy a private message, it is automatically sent to the last person that logged on as ‘Lucy,’ and therefore John’s private information is being sent to the random clone. At other times, in the absence of clones, messages are just lost, either by some random fault of the person sending the message (misspelled nickname), or by way of some glitch in the program. There is no real way to ensure that every time a private message is sent, it is received by the person it is intended for. I have been in the chat room at times when the only conversation in the public room entails, “John, did you get my PM?” “Lucy, are you getting my PM’s?” The security in private chat rooms is a false security, and should be used with added caution.

The Internet, from it’s inception, has always been about expanding the territory. It offers a greater range of information on a wider variety of subjects than most libraries or research institutions could offer. According to Christina in Colorado, “everything comes down to sex and territory; the net certainly expands the territory.” There are no limitations on who a user can meet. Pitman supports this:

Another positive factor is the removal of physical limitations that would prohibit meeting in the first place. The Internet provides a space where you can meet and communicate with lots of people; much more than you would encounter, and have the occasion to speak with, in your daily life…this medium brings together two people who would not otherwise meet. (Pitman).

Physical Limitations run our current lives. Time constraints, cash flow (or lack thereof), or a more personal limitation, like shyness, contribute to one’s inability to go places and meet people. These limitations do not exist on the Internet. Instead of spending weeks planning a vacation that will last only a weekend because of work responsibilities, one can spend an hour on the web with people from Australia or Germany. The limitations are removed. In the end, this is the ultimate purpose of the Internet.

Technology will not stop. Many of the problems facing Internet users will be eliminated in the near future. Already we have the capabilities of an interactive web. Cameras and special software can allow users to see each other, and transmitting voice bytes is becoming more commonplace in some of the more advanced types of chat rooms. While interactive communication is not widespread as yet, that is where Internet Communication is heading. With the implementation of such technology, many of the concerns surrounding the Internet will disappear.

One of the links to this future reality is a type of chat room or MUD (Multi-User Dimension) known as a GMUK, or Graphical Multi-User Konversation. GMUKs contain graphical “avatars” or “props” against a colorful backdrop, or room. The avatars, or “avs” as they are commonly called, represent the users and can be any type of picture or icon. Props are added to the avatars to give each character or identity, These allow the personality of the user to show through. The user can implement various personal aspects of themselves into their characters to create a visual to go by. Users have the capability to include, as one of their avs, pictures of themselves. These pictures, as other web pictures, or e-mail addresses in a text-based chat room, indicate trust and friendship.

Still much of society rejects this form of communication. It is seen as abstract or unreal. Debbie in West Virginia writes,

Virtual relationships in the end are not real relationships. There’s something to be said for relating face-to-face, skin-to-skin. (Women’s Wire News).

The more research I do, the more I disagree with this statement. A relationship is still defined as “the dealings or associations between persons or groups.” Corresponding with someone via the Internet is dealing with that person, being associated with them. Therefore, they are by definition, real relationships. How real one makes the relationship by personal definition, is up to that person. Pitman writes,

I realize that although the medium does have its constraints, it still consists of two people interacting. The outcome of a relationship depends upon the individuals involved. (Pitman).

If face-to-face communication is the only requirement, then the option is always there to go and meet the person with whom, one is corresponding. The reality of the situation is that electronic communication is here to stay. It may mean that much of society will have to redefine their understanding of a relationship. “We just have to go with the wave of the future. Fifty years from now cyberdating will be treated as a normal part of our culture.” (Editha in Florida, Women’s Wire News). </hi!!>


May 22, 2018

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