This is the first article I wrote for AREA203. It’s about love.
The Internet Is A Weird Place
A friend of mine was recently dumped by her boyfriend via an unexpected Facebook message. She was furious. How could he handle something as serious as a breakup by using such a fickle medium? That’s the tricky thing about the Internet, I think. We willingly digitize every aspect of our interpersonal relationships, boiling friendships down to a series of status updates and tweets, but we rarely seem to stop and think about what implications that may have on culture as a whole. You see, my friend started her relationship via a series of Facebook messages, so why is it so wrong that it ended the same way?
I honestly don’t have an answer for her. If I were in her shoes (sex reversed), I would be furious, too. But the whole thing got me thinking about social media, romance, and the evolution of the Internet. We’ve all seen those eHarmony commercials, claiming that 1 in 5 relationships start online. When did online dating go from being a joke to being a practicality? Could a serious relationship actually be automated? Could it work? I decided to take a look.
Careful Research & Considerable Googling
I started out carefully, trying to avoid unscrupulous sites that defined the term “dating” very loosely. Obviously, Craigslist was completely out of the question. After some careful research and considerable Googling, I came upon two legitimate-looking services. Best of all? They’re free.
Its simple. You can create a profile quickly, easily search a wide range of criteria and start your search for Mr. or Mrs. Right with little effort. Plenty of Fish is a decent social media based dating service, user experience is fine, and navigation seems intuitive enough. However, that’s kind of where it ends. There is a chemistry test that helps match you with other users, but it doesn’t go very deep.
From a visual standpoint, the site is kind of depressing. You feel like you’re signing up for an online dating service. For me, personally, this was a drawback.
I wont beat around the bush, this site was almost INSTANTLY my preference over Plenty of Fish. The design is sharp and simple, profile creation is intuitive, and the user experience is completely logical. The best part? You feel like you’re signing up on any other social media platform. They even have a really great mobile app (it’s so hip).
OKCupid’s matching algorithm and criteria are also much more advanced than Plenty of Fish’s. There are hundreds of questions to cycle through that modify your personality profile and, in turn, alters match results to better fit what you’re looking for. Beyond functionality, answering these questions is kind of fun. OKCupid does a great job combining site use with entertainment. In the world of online romance, that means a lot.
While the character of each user varies, OKCupid seems to be populated by genuine people. All dating sites are bound to attract a certain caste of clientele, though you can rest assured that their discovery of your profile will be limited so long as you answer the defining personality questions differently than they do. OKCupid’s setup allows for like-minded users to find each other.
Exchange Messages, Meet In Person
This is where social media dating sites take the most notable departure from conventional platforms, like Facebook or Twitter. The presumption with the latter is that you know everyone you friend request or are familiar with whatever personality you follow. It’s a little backwards with sites like OKCupid. You start out with people you don’t know, with the ultimate goal of meeting in person.
There is no official way to set up a date on OKCupid. Instead, there is just a simple platform for exchanging messages. Generally, users share short quips with other users they are interested in. This works as a kind of screening process. Unlike Facebook, OKCupid displays very little personal information—that is, of course, if you are smart enough to exclude that information in your “self summary.” Actually going on a date is a decision reached between both users, once both users feel comfortable meeting.
Don’t Forget To Play It Safe
That’s one of the great things about sites like OKCupid: you’re able to get to know someone, at least marginally, before meeting them. This will surely help you weed out the ex-con weirdo creeps that you may fear inhabit most of the Internet. You even have the option of reading through the personality questions people have answered, view how similar your answers are, and monitor when they last looked at your profile.
Because setting up a date on OKCupid is an automated version of setting up a date in real life, it’s fair to say that the same rules should apply for both. For example, if a shady individual invites you on a date down a dark alley, chances are you should turn them down. Likewise, don’t take any risks on these websites. Be cautious and use common sense. Suggest your first date take place in a well-lit, public arena. I suggest a coffee shop.
The Times Are Changing
So what does this all mean? What does this say about society? We have obviously become so attached to the Internet that we now consider it an acceptable platform for normal, everyday interactions. Sincere, down-to-earth people are turning their efforts towards automated relationships. I think this says something about society as a whole, beyond that of just web-based interactions. Communications through Facebook and Twitter are slowly becoming as legitimate as a phone call or written letter.
The next time a close friend admits to having an account on a site like OKCupid, think twice before you give in to knee-jerk mocking. We are simply experiencing the next stage of Internet connectivity. Remember how funny it was when you’re friends first explained LiveJournal? “What’s blogging?” you asked.
If you’re thinking of starting a profile on a site like OKCupid, remember to do so responsibly. Be mature, be open, and do your best not to judge others prematurely. Most importantly, remember my friend and her failed Facebook romance. If you’re willing to automate the start of something, you have to be willing to automate the end of it as well.
→ David Pemberton, @Dave_Your_Fave