“What’s your Favourite Colour of Jelly Bean?”

Disclosure: This blog is based on genuine experience… Unfortunately.

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Recently the fate of circumstance led me to dive into the world of online dating – or more accurately, social media dating. Downloading Tinder was really more of a choice to boost personal morale (spoiler alert!) than a serious effort to meet ‘that special someone’, but I quickly learned this love-to-hate-but-still-a-secret-addiction app brougtinder_blog_image1ht about all kinds of unusual behaviour from my social circle. Within a matter of days, I had friends telling me how ‘great it was because the people on it aren’t overly desperate’, or ‘how it was just a hook up app’, or how ‘there are hilarious one-liners that have 100% success rate of response’ (one of which inspired the title of this article). But what amazed me was the way in which social interaction is manipulated and the boundaries of appropriate social commentary are altered by the virtual world.

So has face-to-face interaction lost its value? Or are people just becoming increasingly comfortable and perhaps even more connected on a personal level through social media platforms? Research shows that, unsurprisingly, when people are looking to meet a dating partner for the first time, they will adjust their self-presentation and behaviour to what they think that potential partner desires (Ellison et al., 417). But further research puts forward that with this ideal image, we also feel the need to present our authentic self; this is what creates a foundation for intimacy in our relationships. Now while it could be argued that our genuine and true nature can be expressed in an online environment, do we not communicate primarily through body language? How can you truly establish intimacy without knowing someone’s mannerisms? Or to a greater extent, how can you do something as simple as practice the art of flirtation through touch?

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What Tinder has revolutionized is the simplification of the social process of dating. Just like Google Maps eliminated our need for paper maps and Facebook messages provided an alternative to sending postcards, Tinder has broken down dating to its skin and bones. A name, an age, some carefully selected photos, and perhaps a sentence or two. With that we form a split second decision of if this person is a love match. In a Huffington Post article, Joshua Pompey argues we’ve been ‘Tinder-ing’ since the beginning of time – after all, isn’t it an initial physical attraction that drives us to approach a love interest in any public setting? Perhaps yes, but the follow-up is what throws this theory off (an opening liner in a bar or café of ‘how hot you look’ or ‘hey sexy’ is more likely to send you running than engaging in a deep and meaningful conversation).

Beyond the endlessly complex world of dating, social media has brought about a new kind of social addiction. It’s called ‘Internet Addiction Disorder (IAD)’, according to a 2012 study by the National Institutes of Health. It works like many other addictions: we get a good feeling when we’re engaging with it, and a bad feeling when we’re not (which blogger Jason Thibeault assumes is related to a dose of Dopamine that our body rewards us with when we’re using it and craves when we’re not). In short, we become a narcissistic version of ourselves that thrives off the approval – or ‘Likes’ – of other users. This behaviour can arguably be applied to the world of Tinder: when we get a match, that self-gratifying feeling kicks in for a short moment and perpetuates a desire to experience it over and over again. So is Tinder really about dating then? Or is it about fulfilling a certain personal desire or emotional need? Perhaps it can be a blurred line between these two ideas, but like any social media, it is always essential that we are the moderators of the app – not the other way around.

Needless to say, my venture on Tinder ended almost as fast as it began. As connected as I am to the constant online flow of information, I’ll leave the real social relationships to exactly how they should flourish – in reality.

Ellison, N. et al. (2006). Managing impressions online: Self-Presentation Processes in the Online Dating Environment. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 11(2), 415-441.

CBS News article on ‘Internet Addiction Disorder’:
http://www.cbsnews.com/news/how-real-a-risk-is-social-media-addiction/

A Guardian article on Tinder as the millennial dating method:
http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2013/nov/23/tinder-shallowest-dating-app-ever

 

 

A Generation of ‘Internet-Interactors’ or Back to Our Roots?

I have always considered myself to be a social person – I think. Okay, perhaps social media, texting, and cell phone obsession have consumed my generation, but that only really took off in my early teens, so I clearly learned social skills prior to this evolution. Right?

socialmedia_blogpostThe debate of social interaction and the upcoming generation’s ability to be active and comfortable to person-to-person interaction has been prominent in academia, to the point that personally I’ve never found it particularly fascinating. The other day, however, I had a business networking meeting. As per usual protocol, I immediately stood up and shook their hand. After being led into an office and casually discussing career goals and the typical sum of a professional background, the person commented that I presented well. I was obviously glad to have a complement, and they followed by pointing out they could immediately tell I had strong interpersonal skills by my handshake. Sorry? I had no idea that my fate of a good impression had already been sealed in the first thirty seconds. They proceeded to show me what they often received – a flimsy, limp noodle handshake that inconspicuously read ‘I couldn’t care less’. It led me to wonder if this really was the truth of my generation. Are we so consumed by our digital lives that we’ve lost the instinct and knowledge of body language?

In the Handbook of New Media: Social Shaping and Consequences of ICTs, Curry (2002) suggests that the key to understanding shifts in social interaction is to consider the interconnection between technologies available for communication and representation and the method by which people conceptualize space and place (p.503). Slater (2002) furthers this notion by describing the advancements of new media from older forms of digital interaction. He states:

“…the focus moved from the virtual as simulation to the virtual of coherent social space, and one in which new rules and ways of being and relating could emerge precisely because of the separation from the constraints of the ‘really real’. We can flesh this out through the remaining three terms: spatiality, disembedding and disembodiment.”(p.534)

When we take into consideration our interpretation of space and place, how do we then define our virtual selves? Do we feel a sense of place and space through our Facebook page? Is Facebook Messenger a so-called ‘place’ and ‘space’ of interaction in the same sense a coffee shop or that office I was in might be? In a sense, we could push this statement to say that our computers or more specifically the Internet holds a plethora of spaces and places. These ‘realities’ however are constructed through a series of programming mechanisms. In a simple scenario, consider what happens when you restore your backed up hard drive onto your computer; everything is restored to how it was one month ago, for example. Now, obviously this functions differently on the uber-intelligent Internet, but imagine this also applied to all of your social media accounts. How does this coordinate with your actual reality? Does it create a type of friction or conflict? In essence, it creates two separate realities of space and place. The difference though is in that the Internet and new media does not function in the linear manner through which real life unfolds.

This line of thought is just a minute part in the ambiguous debate of the effects of new media. Questions of identity, policy, freedoms of expression, etc. are all factors in the forming of digital social interaction. In many ways, pockets of society are reverting back to classic and humanized forms of interaction. The movement towards the tangible object for example, has reinvigorated the value of the object versus the digital copy. I would argue this phenomenon gives hope to the classic industries of publishing, music, and art. There is however an undeniable shift away from this and a growing obsession of the virtual.

Going back to the example of my business meeting, it became clear that the ability to socially interact face-to-face has now become a valuable asset. Whether this quality will diminish and eventually become extinct with new generations remains to be seen.

Lievrouw, L. and Livingstone, S. (Eds.)(2002). The Handbook of New Media: Social Shaping and the Consequences of ICTs. London: Sage Publications.