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.