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James Houran, Ph.D.

This is a poignant example of why selectively reported “positive” testimonials offered as evidence that a matchmaking system works do not impress scientists. For every happy outcome (engagement, marriage, etc.), who knows how many unhappy outcomes there were! Still, the Internet has been shown scientifically to be an effective way to for others to connect on more than a superficial level. Cyberspace has become what Stowe Boyd from Corante Research calls the new “third space” (Boyd, 2004). Traditionally, people used to have three “spaces:” Work, Home, and a “Third Space” that was different than the first two. This was an individual’s personal space – a spot for relaxing and networking. The character of Norm Peterson on “Cheers” used the Cheers bar as his third space. Boyd argues that television essentially killed the use of traditional “third spaces.” Instead of the local hang out spot, the trend is for people to now turn to the Internet to fulfill their need for a “third space.”

Obviously, cyberspace is not a healthy “third space” for everyone, but there are research studies that demonstrate that deep and lasting relationships can develop over the Internet. While some researchers emphasize that the Internet promotes the development of “fantasy selves,” sociologist Michael Hardey (2002) showed that the disembodied anonymity that characterizes the Internet can act as a foundation for the building of trust and the establishment of real world relationships – rather than the construction of fantasy selves. Taking this further, Baker (2002) examined the question of what factors differentiate successful and unsuccessful couples who first met online. Baker concluded from a qualitative analysis that four general variables signaled a couple’s capacity for long-term “compatibility:”
• Where they meet: the overlap of specific interests as represented by the type of site they enter for a first encounter online signals long-term compatibility.
• What they will do to be together: obstacles of distance, jobs and finances, and other relationships are negotiated so that past attachments are diminished and at least one partner will relocate.
• When they interact: taking a lengthy period of time to get to know each other online before meeting face-to-face and postponing sexual involvement promotes longevity of relationships.
• How they communicate: learning to handle each others’ styles of communication even when conflicts occur online enhances online and then offline satisfaction and cooperation.

Therefore, online dating and social networking companies sincerely interested in promoting long-term relationships should emphasize prolonged communication among its customers. This might well help counter the inherent drawbacks of so-called “hyperpersonal communication.” This term reflects the unique characteristics of online interactions and communications, which have been argued to be fundamentally different from other forms of interpersonal (e.g., a mutually involved co-participant) or mass (e.g., a relatively unknown and unresponsive element of a larger audience) communications. Specifically, individuals in chat-rooms and newsgroups have much less information about other participants (i.e., highly restricted verbal and nonverbal cues) with which they might make attributions or form impressions of the other. For example, in a chat room, the only information one has available about a conversational partner is information the partner chooses to make available (e.g., a screen name that may or may not be a useful cue, personal information that he or she chooses to disclose that may either be true or intentionally deceiving). Thus, hyperpersonal communicators are forced to rely on broad assumptions in order to make interpretations about the other, as well as inflate their perceptions of the other based on the restricted cues that are available (Walther, 1996).

On the other hand, the “tools” of online dating (e.g., detailed personal profiles, digital images, webcams, and the results of purported psychological testing) might serve to overcome restricted cues in online impression formation. Accordingly, online daters can maintain rather realistic expectations of relationships when online relationships are taken offline. Houran and Lange (2004) recently reported, for instance, that attitudes of online daters’ toward online dating do not significantly distort the anticipated quality and quantity of their computer dates. Moreover, on average the respondents in their sample reported an anticipated 50% probability that even individuals rated as “perfectly compatible” by online testing methods would prove satisfactory when met in person.

The bottom line: the Internet can foster deep and lasting relationships (platonic or romantic), and online matchmaking can facilitate this process by providing ample “tools” that encourage and sustain communication among online daters. Online daters are at once optimistic and realistic about online “prospects.” Not everyone will find their soul mate, but hopefully most online interactions will not end in significant disappointment like that of Justin Hall.

Thanks

References

Baker, A. (2002). What makes an online relationship successful? Clues from couples who met in cyberspace. Cyberpsychology and Behavior, 5, 363-375.

Boyd, S. (2004). Social tools and the ‘third space’ in Europe. Paper presented at the iDate 2004 International Dating Conference, Nice, France, July 15-16.

Houran, J., & Lange, R. (2004). Expectations of finding a ‘soul mate’ with online dating. North American Journal of Psychology, 6, 297-308.

Walther, J. B. (1996). Computer-mediated communication: Impersonal, interpersonal, and hyperpersonal interaction. Communication Research, 23, 3-43.

Fernando Ardenghi

Perhaps it was an special "Truman Show" -he knew he was on Internet- that ended. 11 years continuosly on web is like 110 real years -on Earth-, perhaps the persons used to see him were tired or bored!


Kindest Regards,
Fernando Ardenghi.
[email protected]
Argentina.

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