With Valentine’s Day approaching, it behooves me to touch on a different sort of connection made possible by new media. Set aside, for a moment, your digital genius and think not to the connection of signals between towers or devices, or to the connecting of messages between statesmen and voters or marketeers and consumers. Think, instead, to the dearest of connections — love connections.
Pardon me as I date myself (pun intended)
On a site dedicated to the subject of dating (e.g. Match.com, OKcupid.com, or eHarmony.com), my love connection may be described using euphemistic devices denoting a sense of datedness similar to descriptors used on this blog to refer to media of an earlier time, for instance “old media” or “traditional media.” On named dating sites, my love connection may be termed ‘old dating’ as a tech-savvy font slinger goes on to distinguish ‘new dating’ as that carried out online and mediated by sophisticated algorithms pairing millions of singles to one another without areal restrictions. And indeed he or she would be right, not only about the immense capabilities of online dating, but also about my love story being comparatively old-school, as I met my husband of 10 years the ‘old-fashioned’ way — on campus at university.
Cybersocial norms and narratives
Today, there are dating apps and websites that cater to those looking to flirt, date, or fall in love. Note the intentional emphasis on ‘or’ in the previous sentence, as flirting and dating are no longer on a linear continuum toward love. Maybe it was never perfectly linear, but it certainly isn’t now — Blindr being a case in point. However, any app or site where people are put together and allowed to interact will indubitably produce sparks, including on LinkedIn, Farmville, MOOCs, and other unexpected places.
Between sparks, occurs a lot of ‘noise,’ which is described by Chalkley et. al (2012) as a breakdown in communication caused by contextual, technical, perceptual, and cognitive factors resulting in distortions to the intended message. For example, consider technical errors introduced by new media devices. How often has the spellchecker on your computer botched a name you knew perfectly well how to spell? How often has your cell phone’s autocorrect ruined a witty retort? The authors of Communication, New Media, and Everyday Life affirm miscommunication is not always a bad thing.
Daters match or move on, navigating a new world of online social norms and verbal and non-verbal communications. There are unwritten and written rules to it (terms and conditions they’re called). As well, there exists a coded language, such as the initialism ‘NSA’ for no strings attached. Singles swipe through hundreds of pictures looking for — or missing — zillions of non-verbal cues. Playing a high speed game of catch and release, they are ever-building intertextual relationships — based partly in cyberspace and partly outside of it — woven together as a new-age form of reality.
In past decades, online society was believed — or feigned — a break from a stressful reality, but this is no longer quite true, or even possible. Online society is a creeping new reality. (In fact, paper job applications and bank statements have nearly ceased to exist.) The setting is spatially and conceptually infinite and foreign, those who brave it learn hard lessons and experience very real reward. To grasp the immensity of this emerging phenomenon, consider a few of the many virtual dating resources and activities available to net courtiers.
Cybersocial sweethearts have the option to:
- read online articles offering advice on everything, such as how to meet other singles, how to dress on a date, and where to take your date
- share relationship status and updates with friends and family
- produce, record, and ‘share’ their marriage proposals (some go viral!)
- set-up an online gift registry for an engagement, wedding, anniversary, baby shower, and other celebratory events
- crowdfund to pay for couple’s vacations, weddings, or honeymoons
- offer virtual wedding attendance for invitees who are not able to attend due to distance or disability
- commit to one another in a virtual online wedding (not, yet, legally binding)
- attend online relationship counseling sessions
- file for divorce online, if it all goes kaput
The cyber soap opera
Digital partnering is not exclusive to any demographic (age, race, sexual orientation, etc.). In the tone of Shakespeare, all the world’s an actor and spectator. Like it or not, we’re all a part of a sort of cyber soap opera. If one is not partnering or sharing their partnerships with others by way of new media, then one is witnessing the partnerships of others by way of media. And by “witnessing the partnerships of others” I do not mean porn or its new sub-genre revenge porn; however this, too, is new media.
Maybe, like me, you’re too uninterested to ‘Google’ Taylor Swift’s new beau (and accompanying love ballad); Kanye West’s and Kim Kardashian’s breakup, or a recent sighting of Prince William and Kate Middleton. Nonetheless, we all still know a little something about it. Whether you met your significant other online or on campus at uni, everyone everywhere is now taking part, actively or passively, in every relationship’s development. If there’s any doubt, change your relationship status on Facebook and see what sort of stir is caused.
Like a family historian, digital media stores posts, messages, videos, calendar events, photos, and vital records. It is no longer a mere tool for career and academic success, but — from beginning to beginning again — it creates, mediates, shapes, supports, propagates, and stores our love narrative. ∎∎∎
Happy Valentine’s Day!
- Chalkley, T., Brown, A., Cinque, T., Warren, B., Hobbs, M., & Finn, M. (2012). Communication, new media, and everyday life. South Melbourne: Oxford.
- Eller, D. (n.d.). Online dating concept-teenage boy [stock image]. Retrieved from http://www.123RF.com
- Eller, D. (n.d.). Online dating concept-teenage girl [stock image]. Retrieved from http://www.123RF.com