Interpersonal relationships, as mediated through social networks (or social networking; the vernacular is still up for debate as far as I’m concerned) are definitely different from relationships in the physical world. To further explore this difference, the world of online dating can be a prime example. Now, we’ve all heard of the success stories of Match.com and eHarmony—regardless of the fact that these stories are from the companies’ own commercials, but there are many different perspectives to take into account when considering the discourses surrounding interpersonal relationships.
Interestingly enough, NYU’s own blog, NYULocal chose this very week to look into online dating with a panel of “Sexperts” in its article, “A Panel Of Internet ‘Sexperts’ Discuss Online Dating.” In said article, author Ian Hartz references the film, XOXOSMS,which follows the story of a New York art student, Jiyun and her internet companion, Gus from Illinois. Through the trailer for the movie it becomes obvious that the two met by chance on Facebook, but that their love was felt strongly enough for them to meet in person. The film touches on the awkwardness that can be felt in taking the world of social media into the real world, and that awkwardness is exactly what must be examined. As is pointed out in Hartz’s article, many employees of current popular dating sites, like DateMySchool, believe that people who meet online should meet in person right away. In fact, Melanie Wallner of DateMySchool said that she believes that she feared that online communications could seriously inhibit our in-person social skills. This seems true to the fact that many people would rather text than call, or even send an email.
Another discourse to look at is that of truth to online personae. As cited on NYULocal, Twanna Hines of Funky Brown Chick, a dating blog, says that each piece of information posted online is like a dot in a pointillist painting, leaving viewers, or in this case other participants of the sites to fill in any gaps. How much of that is true to reality?
The Story of Jiyun and Gus is a successful tale of lovers that met on Facebook, but perhaps this is a very rare occurrence. Gus and Jiyun seemed to convey themselves in an honest and very realistic manner, but how many people actually do that? How many people think so honestly of themselves? Hartz’s article refers at one point to Online dating as empowering, as the sites give people confidence they wouldn’t have in a normal setting. The confidence is there because of the mediation. They can reread what they post before they post it. You can proofread a Facebook message, but not a phone call. XOXOSMS should have looked at stories of those who were completely different than their online selves. As a society, we are exposed to success statistics of Match.com and eHarmony and the popularity of OkCupid, but what about the failures? What about the people that were just too awkward to make it work in person? I’m not talking To Catch a Predator status or anything, but just those that have some sort of addiction to the power that social media gives them in their relationships, and how that power doesn’t transfer over to their physical lives.
I think that Hartz’s article does an okay job of criticizing XOXOSMS, but I think that Life 2.0 does a better job of showing the other extremes. Steve and Amy’s relationship crumbled under the pressures of real life; in Second Life they showed each other everything but their annoying little habits. Moving in together in first life wasn’t as easy as it was supposed to be, proving that we are incapable of knowing everything about someone based on his or her profile or even the way he or she interacts with other participants. There must be more focus on the untruths that are accepted due to the mediation. In the case of Asri and her Second Life BFF Misty Rhoades, they obviously didn’t take what they really looked like into account when making their avatars, but they presented their personalities in such a real way that they could be friends both inside and outside of the game. In everyday life, we are accustomed to think that meeting someone in person after having met them online is both creepy and dangerous, but with the technologies improving and becoming such a big part of our lives, it seems as though we must meet our online companions. If we wait too long or use internet connection too much, we might become a society of introverts without in-person social skills, or even a society accustomed to lying about who we truly are.