Has online dating lost the “weird” stigma?

Living in a big city, we are privileged to often be the first to watch social change happen.  Over the past few years, I’ve noticed this being true when it comes to online dating, especially for young adults such as we in college or freshly starting our careers.  The understanding of what “online dating” entails is changing as the social media arena opens up in this sector as well, as discussed by Kelly House in an article written out of another big city, Portland.  She discusses how sites like Match.com still cater to older generations who are established in their lives and looking for a serious, stable relationships, however, it is becoming more and more popular amongst younger generations to utilize sites like OkCupid and Plenty of Fish for more casual networking.  This is because more serious sites, many of which charge membership fees, match their users based on very specified reasons that they would make a good couple.  As the Internet is becoming ingrained to our lives more every single day and social media networks are becoming solidified as our own personal networks in “real” life too, House notes that “savvy web entrepreneurs are betting that young singles represent an untapped revenue source.” Thus, these smaller, more casual sites have sprung up to cater towards them.  She explains that “they tend to be more tech-savvy, carefree and interactive” and focus more on location and shared interests to create potential matches.

The story is presented in a manner that shows examples of different sites and explains the basics as to how online dating has been changing, but it doesn’t dive enough into the reasons why.  Although she explains that the stigmas of online dating have changed somewhat  because “today’s 20-something grew up online. Using the Internet as a dating tool seems natural,” House fails to express enough how online dating can lead to and potentially create meaningful relationships via the ways we are now able to contact each other online and share ourselves as well. It is indeed correct that these sites and the way views have changed about them have allowed for more casual connections to occur offline like meeting for a concert you both enjoy, however I think it is more important to note how the Internet has allowed for connections to deepen in the online realm as well.  For example, an online dating site is very much its own community as its users share something in common: no matter how casual or serious of an interaction they are looking for, they are trying to make social ties in some way.  Nancy Baym explains that “online, we bump into the people who share our interests rather than those who happen to be in the same physical location. This leads to connections that might not otherwise form.” It is important to look at this alongside how our social cues have changed as well.  In 2012 as opposed to 1980, it isn’t as common to spot someone at your favorite coffee joint and ask them on a date because we seem to have become much more avoiding of strangers than in the past (a blog post could be written on this topic alone.) If you spark up a conversation on the Internet, however, about the latest YouTube video that had you in tears laughing or the awesome new band you found on Spotify, you might be more apt to meet them later in the week and see how you hit it off in person.

What House fails to discuss is how important it is to think about online dating in juxtaposition with the self we are creating online. With our own networks, it is very easy for Internet savvy individuals (ones who would be more inclined to use dating sites) to show exactly who they are in “real life” on the Internet via the unlimited content available to be shared as well as the networks that can be used to display who we are (such as our Twitter feeds.)  It is possible that Internet dating is becoming more generally “accepted” in society because of how “normal” other Internet communities like Twitter and Reddit have become and how the social interactions we have on them can so often make us feel close to strangers in a way very different than ever before.  “Strangers” in 2012 can become “friends” in the matter of seconds and with new features like Facebook Timeline, we have the ability of finding out almost anything about someone in a matter of minutes (*cough “Facebook stalking” cough*.)  In my eyes, the stigma once associated with Internet dating is breaking down so quickly in front of us because the Internet has become a means of documenting every part of oneself, and thus it is easy to get to know someone without physically having the chance to do so.

Twitter: Homewrecker?

We are all users of Twitter. We are all Tweeters. Consider your Tweets.

Have you ever stopped yourself from Tweeting something after realizing it might offend one your followers? Or have you crafted a passive-aggressive Tweet about someone with whom you were in a fight? Did you end up actually Tweeting it? Have you ever wondered whether or not your use of Twitter is affecting the success of your romantic relationships?

In April 2011, the dating site OkCupid was interested in the lengths of its users relationships based on whether or not they were Tweeters and their ages. The popular dating site collected data from 833,987 of its users and created a study called “How Long Do Your Relationships Usually Last?” They found that OkCupid users who also use Twitter have shorter relationships on average across all age-groups than non-Tweeters. They also found that the difference in the length of a relationship increases between users and non-users as the users’ ages increase.

This study accomplished what it wished to accomplish: to determine how the lengths of OkCupid users’ relationships changed based on whether or not they used Twitter and their ages. I would have completed this study in the same way: by gathering a group of OkCupid users and surveying them. However, this study only surveyed 833,987 people and, while this is a large number, OkCupid has around 7 million users. I would have tried to survey a greater number of users in order to have a sample more representative of the entire population of users.

While I generally agree with the way this study was done, I find problems in the way it was analyzed. This study is discussed in Dr. Gary Lewandowski’s blog post, “Is Twitter Bad for Relationships?” on the blog Science of Relationships. Although he states that “correlation does not equal causation,” he goes on to attempt to link Tweeter’s shorter relationships with their tweeting. Throughout his analysis, he fails to keep in mind that this study was done with OkCupid users who were also Tweeters; Dr. Lewandowski refers to all Twitter users in general. He does not consider that there might be something different about the way OkCupid users, or at least the ones surveyed, are Tweeting, compared to people who are not users of OkCupid. Perhaps OkCupid users are more likely to Tweet in a way that might lead to shorter relationships, but this cannot be determined from this study.

Dr. Lewandowski wonders whether or not “sharing details of your life” on Twitter is bad for a relationship. But this study is not looking into the content of what people are tweeting. There is no evidence that OkCupid users who are also Tweeters are sharing intimate details of their life at all or in a way that could be threatening to a relationship. (I know that I am only one Twitter user out of millions and that I’m not an OkCupid user, but I’ve noticed that I, and a grand majority of the people I follow, do not Tweet in detail about their daily activities. In fact, people seem to realize that Tweets that share details of one’s life, such as, “Going on a date with this really hot guy I met in the subway station,” do not make for interesting Tweets.) This study did not examine what people are Tweeting; it simply examined whether or not they were Tweeting and their relationship lengths. If Lewandowski wants to make the assertion that Tweeters are Tweeting details about their life that are too intimate which may affect the length of their relationships, he will have to observe what Tweeters are Tweeting about.

Lewandowski also says that “frequent Tweeting is indicative of narcissism” and “posting daily updates [to Twitter] could be a sign of narcissism.” Again, Lewandowski seems more interested in what people are Tweeting, but this study does not take the content of tweets into account. And, even if it did, how could a Tweet be defined as “narcissistic” or not? Would a researcher have to search Twitter for certain terms that would make one seem narcissistic? Perhaps they would assume that a narcissistic user would use the word “me” too often, but searching for this word will bring up tweets that are not necessarily narcissistic. Lewandowski seems to assume that Tweeters are the only ones with negative qualities and the ones that are being “dumped” by their significant others, but it could be that the users of OkCupid who are also Tweeters are breaking up with their partners.

Like the documentary Life 2.0, based on users of the virtual online world Second Life, Lewandowski’s analysis of this study makes Twitter users seems obsessed with Tweeting. He thinks that Tweeters are what they tweet and encourages users to step back from Twitter to make sure they are “doing enough to foster [their] relationship.” One user in Life 2.0 stated that he wasn’t defined by Second Life, but that he defined himself in Second Life. Lewandowski seems to think that Tweeters are defining themselves on Twitter as generally narcissistic and careless because they Tweet details about their lives that would be better kept private.  However, since the study done by OkCupid does not consider what people are Tweeting, this cannot be affirmed.

Baym tells us that people who are familiar with technology will be more adept to reading peoples’ signals online. With this in mind, it could be considered that people who are able to understand and use OkCupid and Twitter might be relatively familiar with technology. Thus, they might be better at reading people’s online signals and realizing earlier than those who are not as technologically savvy (or not also on Twitter) that a relationship does not seem promising and should end sooner rather than later.

I would be most interested in conducting a study to find if all Twitter users, not just Twitter users who also use OkCupid, have shorter relationships on average than non-Twitter users. And yet, if a study like this did come out and suggested that Twitter usage was related to shorter relationships, would I feel guilty about my avid tweeting? Would I be persuaded to step back from Twitter in order to focus more on my relationships? This remains to be seen.

Modern Family: Social Media & Parenting

When interpersonal relationships and social media collide, the virtual world faces some scrutiny from the physical world. Questions arise as to whether or not relationships can strive in cyberspace, and as to whether or not social media usage affects physical world relationships. For this second blog, in looking at mediated interpersonal relationships, I found an interesting blog that discusses the dynamics of social media and how it may be affecting the relationship between parents and their kids: “Is Social Media Affecting Your Relationship With Your Kids?”. It shows how our society can easily turn our youth into zombie-like cyborgs unable to detach from the media. The blog uses a great international commercial to demonstrate this potential overly plugged in culture, but also how we should avoid the dangers of our communication devices, and that we must disconnect to connect. Mike McClure then goes onto exploring the opportunities for children to engage and become the “authors of their culture”. He includes a documentary from PBS where the commentator proclaims that we need to “flip the roles”, and allow our children to teach us about this new digital space. Exposing these harms and potentials of social media, McClure is allowing his audience to ponder their own social media use and reach, be them a parent or not. Values and presentation are explored through the debates on the effects of children and social media and their relation to their parents. Looking into the effects on families, he is looking at parents who hold a knowledge and utilization of social media. Seeing social media as a way to connect to their kids, McClure states that, “One interesting trend was the divide between those with younger kids and those with older ones.  Those with younger children were more torn on the issue. For them, it was a blend of social media causing problems and creating opportunities. The ones with older children were almost all positive on it being a way to connect with their kids.” Exploring this dichotomy, he leaves out the potential strains that social media can put on a family’s relationship. Parents, with younger children, are distracted by using social media and are taken away from the much needed attention they should be giving their child. However, I know relatives who use social media to help with parenting in the modern world. With one parent playing the stay at home role, the other who goes back into the office wishes to remain connected with their child’s progress. Social media has met this need with applications, such as Trixie Tracker and functions to keep all of the family connected. However, parents may have become disillusioned into believing that they are “keeping tabs” on their kids. The youth has become so technologically savvy that they can selectively choose what they want to show their parents, an element of social media that an older generation may not be in tune with, or may choose to not believe. Teens especially are heading to new outlets to keep their social lives out of their parents’ reach and technological grasp. In an interesting twist, parents use of social media can encourage and even entice their children to do the same. In Jason Spingar-Koff’s Life 2.0, a mother engaging in adulterous actions on the virtual reality game of Second Life inspired her daughter to join Club Penguin, an interactive community for tweens. Now who’s to say if the daughter will be able to break the cycle. She may become just as involved in an unhealthy virtual interaction that can tear apart at her physical world relationships, just as it did to her mother’s. The blog does not seem to explore the ever present dangers that cyberspace can create for their kids. Just like the playground, children can face bullies online, and it is a parent’s responsibility to actively monitor and engage in social media to be alert to their kids’ potential harms. Parents need to be educated in order to protect their children. By taking these steps, parents risk alienating their children and breaking trusts. Parents must walk the line between monitoring and controlling their kids’ social media use. How a parent approaches their child’s interaction with cyberspace can tell how a parent views their role in their child’s personal life. The discourse on this topic combines the disciplines of social media and its effects on children with the ideas of parenting in a modern society. The main blog for my discussion serves as a good spring board for discussion on the topic but does not really go beneath the exterior and only looks at the positive effects of social media on family relations. 

Blog 2: Why not just have an affair?

As I searched for an interesting article on interpersonal relationships and social media, I came across too many of the same problems. Man leaves wife for Internet “friend.” Child is molested because of social media networking pedophiles on Myspace and the list goes on and on. Are there ever any positive stories about social media on the news and online? Doesn’t really seem like it. So to follow the negativity, I chose an article title “Can Social Media Break Up A Marriage?” written by Jennifer Ludden. Can social media break up a relationship or do people break up their relationships?

Mike Green, a typical married man who completely trusted his wife and lost all of that love and trust after her affair with her coworker. Seems like an ordinary everyday problem, right? No. In this modern age of social media, her outlets for having an affair increased tremendously through her use of texting, Myspace, and Facebook. Back in 2005, Mike’s wife asked to get texting on her phone and her husband paid no interest and added texting to their phone service plan. Mike soon noticed she seemed to text all the time because he came home late from work almost every night. He noticed a phone bill and saw hundreds upon hundreds of texts from particularly one number. Mike eventually realized it was his wife started to have an affair with her colleague and whom she left him for. She used Myspace and Facebook to talk to him all the time. Poor Mike, right? Maybe not.

The article continues to state “when you don’t have nonverbal communication, the likelihood of being able to disclose at a deeper level is greater, because there’s less inhibition, so it’s going to feel like a more intimate relationship.” This can be why Mike’s wife moved on so quickly with a mere coworker. Later when Mike made his own social media connections and started texting he realized how easy and addictive it was. Was he starting to sympathize with his ex-wife? “I find myself still loving to get texts from females, and I text, text, text, back and forth,” says Mike. I don’t know whether I should be mad Mike is doing exactly what his ex wife did to cheat on him or happy that he’s finally accepting social media? Oh… the confusions of SMN.

Donath and boyd might explain this as “seeing someone within the context of their connections provides the viewer with information about them,” which later makes them feel a closer connection with that person faster. In the fascinating documentary Life 2.0, Amy and Steven have extramarital affairs through their use of Second Life. Their uniquely created Avatars on the site allowed them to meet online and eventually in “real life.” They both separated from their spouses and tried living with each other. “In the pseudonymous dating scene, a frequent complaint is that people act rudely towards each other in ways that they would not do to people they knew in a more integrated social environment.” At first it seemed like Amy and Seven were crazy in love after meeting in real life, but later the documentary goes to show Amy as the victim and Steven as a fake that left her for India. Was Amy really a victim or was Amy’s ex husband the victim of her affair with Steven? I choose her ex husband.

Ludden ends up portraying Mike’s ex wife as a “not so bad kind of a person because everyone does this kind of stuff.” He is a victim to a certain extent, but could he have been that naïve? No one deserves to be cheated on. I mean if you’re not happy, just leave? Why have an affair with your coworker? I just have a whole lot of unanswered questions after reading this article. Will Mike be able to fully trust a woman again? I wouldn’t. Texting, Facebook, and Myspace doesn’t necessarily lead to an affair or ultimately divorce, but it does give people a way to get more intimate with others fairly quickly. In the past, Facebook has caused me to have confusions and suspicions about a boyfriend or best friend, but it hasn’t been the sole reason of a “break up.” Loyola University issued a press release warning married couples to protect their marriages from Facebook. Studies say that 1 in every 5 marriages are ruined by Facebook. I don’t blame Facebook. I blame it on the cheating spouse. Connections formed on social networking sites aren’t simple at all and a spouse should know when they are crossing the line with the interactions they are having with friends, old lovers, etc. Communicate effectively not deceivingly.