Sunday, July 11, 2010

Dating and Intimacy via the Internet

The Internet has had a profound impact on society’s dating and intimacy traditions. As the Internet has become effortlessly accessible, it is no longer solely incorporated into our lives, yet it is built-in, as the services and resources it offers have become intertwined in our every day life. In this essay I will describe and explain how life is experienced now through Internet-mediated activities of information and communication with reference to dating; with the use of the internet we experience freedom of access and a greater access to information and are able to delve into levels of intimacy reinforcing our relationships.

The Internet is no longer a highway of information; it is now a lifestyle enhancement. With the amalgamation of social media sites into our everyday lives we have the right to use it for our personal benefit, by interlacing social media sites such as Facebook as a system to maintain contact with people whom a person already knows and to also form a relationship with someone whom we have just met assisting it become key ways in which we encourage relationships to form and also enhance intimacy (Stephure, Boon, MacKinnon & Deveau, 2009). The Internet persistently encourages us to take advantage of these conveniences simply because of the ease of access to networking sites and therefore dating via the Internet is now a socially acceptable behaviour. With these merits alone our dating choices and habits are no longer what they have been in the past. Prior to the integration of the Internet into our everyday lives, meeting new people required plenty of hit and misses, effort and possible public humiliation because “…finding a romantic partner typically required that individuals meet face to face before they could get to know one another and determine their compatibility as a couple.” (Stephure et al, 2009) But in recent years, our lifestyles have changed. We take more on board and we rely significantly on technology to take some of that burden which is then only natural for culture to alter in regards to dating and maintain a dating relationship. With the use of emails and status posts we can let those whom we love or are simply interested in know how we feel. The trust on technology would interfere in the natural transfer of emotions if the interactions were done only via the Internet: it is not healthy to rely exclusively on technology for interaction. Just as we use a telephone, a card, email or a Facebook wall post to maintain contact, we must continue to provide ourselves with the avid exchange that face-to-face provide. “Some recent studies have found Internet use to be associated with increased local and distant social circles and face-to-face interactions with friends and family” (Boneva, B., Kraut, R., Frohlich, D. 2001) So it must be said that Internet-mediated interactions will only improve those already established relationships and help form those that are no yet formed. Broadbent (2009) suggests that social media [blogs, Facebook, and Twitter] promote greater intimacy between individuals, rather than absorbing time away from social involvement, as it brings another element within inter-personal relationships that coincides with the level of technology that members of society experience, thus attracting new ideas and pushing technology to be within everyday behaviour and matters.

The Internet offers access to information and diversity of Internet dating sites. These facilitate users to be selective and permitting awareness of choices and to take advantage by offering niche dating. For example, if you are interested in dating only someone who is environmentally conscious Green-Passions provides a social network for those looking to socialize with environmentally conscious, eco-friendly singles. (Green-Passions, 2010) If you are interested in meeting someone close to you, you have the option of searching for those who are geographically nearby, as is someone of the same religion or within a particular age group by selecting sites which single out those requisites. There is greater access to particulars when using the Internet and it tolerates cliques which in a face to face environment may be seen as antisocial behaviour. The enormous amount of knowledge and data than one can obtain from using the Internet increases the chances to come across that which we are after, which can seem like a capricious desire, but from infancy we are lead to want to believe that we need another someone to become whole. Friedrich Halm wrote “Two souls with but a single thought, two hearts that beat as one” (n.d), which, personally, leads me to think that I need to find someone with whom to think as one, and if I use the Internet as a way to do banking, check movie times and buy inconsequential items, I would not overlook it to find my companion, which is, by my understanding nothing but fundamental.

Internet dating is no longer a new craze. “Its easy, it’s convenient. It’s not as intimidating as the real world” (Kingston, 2009). With the ease of availability, the Internet in homes, workplaces and included into our mobile devices, users benefit from the freedom of information that may lead to a lasting and true relationship. However, one must not believe that this method alone will establish a lasting true relationship. One must assume that during this process unwanted results may and will arise due, but it does expose you to people you might not otherwise run into (Kingston, 2009) so just like any other task performed offline, the online equivalent will have the same repercussions. What happen online does not stay online anymore, seeing as the Internet and our lives are a cluster of sequences which have become so intertwined, that online is no longer constrained to have specific meaning in regards to computer technology and telecommunications mainly due to the access we control, aided by devices such as the Smartphones which are more than telephones, as Steinberg (2009) points out “It’s a cellular phone that does more than just make calls to the point that it can actually serve as a functional laptop or desktop replacement” and as a result the Internet becomes more recognisable as a lifestyle feature which is interlaced within our interpersonal relationships.

Anonymity is something that the Internet offers without restraint. When engaging in conversation, in this particular case by using tools such as instant messengers, the user is secured from society by being in the comfort of their own home or workplace. This anonymity allows for a lack of inhibitions within a society that puts so much pressure on physical appearance, appropriate behaviour and political correctness. One could be habitually sitting at a desk in their pyjamas actively contributing to an insightful conversation, allowing the other party to be consumed by their input without feeling the need to address issues of attire, sitting positions or personal space. The movie Sleepless in Seattle (Foster & Ephron, 1993) portrays this situation, where the heroine of the movie, Annie Reed, logs into her computer to check her emails in her pyjamas, subsequently we see her tucked in bed chatting and sharing moments of intimacy with a member of the opposite sex without guard, as the anonymity facilitates the ability to share her feelings.

As with any relationship, be it amorous or platonic, one must take on the responsibility to nourish it, to bring constructive behaviours and to be able to make it grow; Internet imparts another level with which to do this. Popular instant messaging software Skype incorporates video calls and markets this by saying “Share a smile, blow a kiss, explain an idea or just gaze longingly – free video calls with Skype are the next best thing to being there” (2010) and with slogans such as these, you cannot help but want to be able to share emotions when those you care for are not at arms length. With technology’s advance, web cameras capture more than the blurry movement and we are kept amused with the ability to produce intimate moments. The levels of intimacy are heightened with the use of Web 2.0 as I can post status, tweets and send links that remind me about him, for whom my heart beats.

At some stage we will find ourselves far from loved ones and when a phone call isn’t enough we can take part in the multitude of ways in which the Internet deepens these connections. Not only does it does it encourage intimacy within a romantic connection, but in fact, enriches intimacy of all the relationships a person can have. By ways of social media our sharing experience becomes alive even though the medium is somewhat virtual, since the relationships are real and that is what transcends the invisible barriers between online and offline. Stephure et al (2009) suggests these barriers may be overlooked by younger people as they have grown up within this cyber-culture However, with the younger population utilizing virtual methods to communicate with those that who have been socializing without the use on internet-mediated activities or devices it is possible to create an involvement across ages, making it possible that intimacy and those early bonds formed with using new media be turned into something extraordinary.

The use of computer-mediated communication have increased “friendly, dominant, and relaxed communication styles” (Birnie & Horvath, 2002) which is only a natural evolution of culture. Alexander Graham Bell (n.d) said “Great discoveries and improvements invariably involve the cooperation of many minds.” He, who invented the telephone, invites normal everyday people to subject themselves to participate in this move towards the use of Internet-media, by using history as an example, and to take advantage of the richness of information which is evoked when one participates. If we become active users of said technology not only are we signing up as members but we are also satisfying the need for more intimate situations. However, this is only a way to balance our personal interactions and by no means is this to evade and bypass face-to-face interaction. When the two are utilized synchronously it is when we become part of an ethos, which makes use of technology and the echo of our feelings an analogous experience.

With the freedom to obtain information via the Internet and the availability of this information, the Internet is integrated into our lives not only for work and recreation purposes but for the more important aspects of our lives which is our personal relationships with those for whom we care. This adds substance to the relationships we choose to form and maintain. Because of the effortlessness in which we can now communicate, the Internet is readily available and it surpasses gender and age to fulfil the inquisitive nature of a human being and to interlace ones emotions with technology.