Share via Email The internet has changed the way in which single people meet. Rex Features Maybe it's the sunshine; maybe it's the royal wedding, but last week the nation fell in love with love again. There's been a lot of it about; I've "accidentally" cycled over my fair share of lovers snogging in the shade in sun-drenched parks.
But is love different today than when William's mum and dad were hitched in ? How different is falling in love in the age of the internet?
Personally, the modern, technologically mediated pursuit of love feels different. I was in a relationship for 13 years. It started in early , before the web had inextricably woven itself into the fabric of society, and it ended in early I fell in love the first time in the age of email, not always-on, technologically mediated hyperlinked social media.
I didn't even have a mobile phone. My instincts, based on this Rip van Winkle perspective, say that web technology has affected our practice of falling in love. Meeting, Dating and Marriage in the Digital Age" project corroborates Yagan's argument, reporting that According to Professor Monica Whitty, author of Cyberspace Romance, our current concept of romantic love is based on a midth-century evolution from strategic partnerships into the roses and white wedding dresses promulgated by magazines, soap operas and Disney movies.
The latter invokes images of presenting a true self to a single lover who accepts us, warts and all; the former, the exchange of properties. Yagan thinks relationships that come from online dating are more likely to stick: So what we're after hasn't changed conceptually, we've just become a bit more businesslike about it. Is it paradoxical that a cold, logical machine has become an important mediator for the most warm and fuzzy of human emotions?
Social scientists and lay observers have been describing the bonds that develop through technology since the telegraph, around the time that our modern concept of romance first emerged; Tom Standage wrote about love over the wires in the late s in his book The Victorian Internet.
He also notes that the first "on-line" wedding took place between a bride in Boston and a groom in New York in Julian Dibbell's descriptions of his personal infatuations in the text-based community LambdaMOO in the early s orient attraction as a product of semantics and idealisation: We do still pay heed to first impressions. Writing a profile for an online dating site or for an online community is an exercise in balancing personal marketing and reality. This can potentially backfire; if, as Dibbell says, "in [virtual reality], it's the best writers who get laid", it should pay to get a skilled ghostwriter.
But, as a friend with an enormously successful profile for a dating site discovered, you have to live up to the prose. You can be too awesome; it pays to include a few warts and all.
When it comes to online services outside the dating websites that feed the love bug, social networks are great at providing a context for a potential match. They expose similarity based on the number of shared connections, or the types of things users like. Status updates on social networks give the impression of being in a place at the same time, even when one or the other person is away from the computer.
And participation in subject-specific online communities gives people something to talk about. But there is one thing in this online love battlefield that does make it feel awfully different from my first courtship: These "hyper-personal" relationships, as Whitty describes them, can create problems for people already in a committed pair. Great for cheap thrills, but potentially destructive for long-term relationships.
I'm reassured that the process of falling in love has remained generally the same, but wonder how, in the long term, our strategic pursuit of The One will affect what we expect from a relationship.
Are we placing too much hope on technology to provide us with an unattainable romantic ideal, or will we be satisfied that we have found Mr or Ms Right out of the potential population of lovers?