All posts by Heloise Ramone

Is Love the Internet?

American interactions with online dating represent a compartmentalization of human social processes. It is either an answer for those who feel they do not have time to be present in the world or for those who have no desire for such engagement. The comfort of being matched with people labeled compatible on an essentially superficial basis outweighs the pleasures of spontaneity for users. More than 40 million Americans have used online dating platforms, yet people have not accepted the medium wholeheartedly.

A recent flurry of media coverage is either a cementing of the place of such sites or its death knell. Writing for New York Magazine, Maureen O’Connor makes the claim that “There is no difference between online and ‘real–life’ dating.” For O’Connor, not only is online dating not different from real–life, but its benefits outweigh the problems, placing it in a secure position. “It’s not an experiment we perform,” she writes, “but a behavior integral to the creation and maintenance of modern relationships.”

Friends who have used such sites have expressed concern over sexual predators who find their way onto a dating profile. Amanda Hess for Slate writes that the perceived desperateness of posting a dating profile may lead to its downfall. Arguably such perceptions, which polls show are common, already shape the nature of online dating. Are we falling in love with people or with constructed representations of what may or may not be? More than half of online daters have found a match they felt “seriously misrepresented themselves in their profile” (Hess). And there are actually services that are available for people in which professional writers will do all the work. This can include everything from profile management to writing the messages that form a connection. The hapless person would just need to show up to the date and perhaps give the occasional “okay.”

Online social processes create new forms of work for humans searching for friendship, intimacy, and love. Like O’Connor states, these are processes of maintenance – modern narratives of Late Capitalism, glimmerings of a future social order already predicted in whispers by tech grunts on break. With online dating, Jill Filipovic posits in her Guardian UK article, we are empowered to “reject someone politely and efficiently” (emphasis added). And like another online application for employment, we are put in the position to answer pages of questions that cannot ever truly reflect our desires. The answer shouldn’t be the regimentation of love with the proliferation of forms filled out during a lunch break or a commute. The time spent online would otherwise be spent on life–affirming activities (although obvious enough, a recently published study conducted by economist Scott Wallsten supports this notion). Paradoxically, many seek an escape from the flurry of web–mediated activity in online dating. The medium is the message. The forms that we use to connect change the nature of the connections made. An analogous situation can be found in the effects of texting on human conversation IRL. Yet advocates may stress that such results are negligible, given the overwhelming benefits.

“We all know that the Internet can be a powerful tool for connecting people,” Amanda Hess writes, “so why do these sites still carry some stigma?” Users of dating interfaces often feel as if there is something missing from such processes. Still, people are drawn to the sites, which are often disembodied from the social reality we find ourselves in. As resilient as humans appear to be, problems present themselves in Internet searches for human connection – these are problems of representation. Users construct their profiles, selecting answers to questions that might not otherwise be posed or prove relevant. People are nonetheless drawn to the sites, while at the same time holding their reservations. The quest is disjointed and, in many ways, never really integrated into our lives. Ideally, online dating should negate itself – provide its escape. Is this not a necessarily desperate act?

What new enemies of life are being born in the online dating boom? Given the speed of business decisions and successes, many in tech become frozen in a perpetual adolescence. People’s lives are less important than the chance to make money. This often involves the direct exploitation of people’s personal information.

There is an increased reliance on increasingly accessible devices for what might be considered administrative functions in our daily lives. The Internet has validated its importance in the eyes of many. What began as a government research project quickly drew the interest of hobbyists who treated the net as a new Citizens Band radio – connecting with interested individuals to exchange information. On the surface, this is all very benign. The threat is a fragmentation into a society of individuals that can more easily be consumed by capital. We become willing subjects, creating the consumable content, embracing our position as a complex statistic.

With a majority of Americans now on social networking sites, the decision to cease the process of identity creation online becomes more and more appealing. The challenge is how — and how quickly — this decision will constitute a new social consciousness. DeleteYourAccount.com provides a search service that allows you to find accounts connected to your name on thirty–six sites. From there, you’ll find instructions for account deletion.

Because of an increased complexity of the means of social control through various media, we have become increasingly conscious of the limitations imposed by newly embraced technologies. At times, our familiarity with the game of social engineering affords us some agency. We must commit to taking this further. Will we dare to stand apart? Will we, despite our world–weariness, choose to step outside?