Expectation vs. Reality: He’s no James Franco!

“Someone messaged me last night!”

“Oh, on Facebook?”

“Nope, on Tinder!”

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[Image from news.com.au]

Over the past few months, I’ve noticed more of my friends trying out different ways to meet people through apps and websites like Datemyschool, Tinder, & Ok Cupid. The sign-up process is quite simple- fill out some background information (age, location, interests) and then add the most important part: the profile photo. The image that is uploaded to the account becomes the first thing that others will see, meaning that it will become your online presence, or “self.” To me, the idea of meeting up with someone through social media/ dating applications is daunting. How can you be able to determine how someone behaves in real life just by a photo?

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[Image from fastcodesign.com]

In Friends Without Benefits, Nancy Jo Sales compiles several conversations that she had with today’s teenagers around the US. Most of the girls that she had spoken with all felt the same way about social media; It was the new way to find hook-ups, send photos to one another, and ultimately dictate the direction of a relationship. The first example that she gives is of a girl who met a boy in person for the first time after exchanging messages through Tinder and Facebook. From his Tinder photo alone, he was supposed to look “James Franco-ish,” but in reality, the girl had met a guy far from that. She proceeded to complain about love on Tumblr, showing the procession of a typical teenage relationship started through social media. Meet on Tinder, chat on Facebook, rant on Tumblr. As shocking as this may be to several of us (our parents included), this is becoming the social norm for teenagers, making face-to-face interaction almost irrelevant.

With social media sites continuously “improving” the ability to personalize profiles, teenagers are given more ways to present themselves a certain way online. Although it allows for more freedom to express ourselves, it also serves as a catalyst for inaccurate self-presentation. When Jo Sales spoke to several teenage girls in California, all of them admitted that they posted “sexy” photos of themselves to earn likes from guys. According to them, boys that have an interest in a girl would like the photo, and if they didn’t interact with you online, then the girl would “feel rejected.” In order to avoid such a problem, girls would play up their sexuality, by adding more makeup, wearing push-up bras, or even nothing at all. In Imaging, Keyboarding, and Posting Identities, Sandra Weber explains that the ability to personalize our online profiles throughout different social media sites has allowed people to experiment with their online identities. Weber states that, “Although we may forget our bodies when cruising in cyberspace, all our actions are taken through them.” With so many young people relying on social media to present themselves in an inappropriate manner, there appears to be no room for authenticity and too much room for mistakes. As we put more information online, teens like the ones that spoke to Jo Sales are being pressured to depict themselves in a negative way that becomes further from the truth.

Sharing too much inaccurate information from a profile that isn’t how you behave in real life can be annoying and very dangerous. In “I Tweet Honestly, I Tweet Passionately: Twitter Users, Context Collapse, and the Imagined Audience,” Marwick & Boyd discusses the “imagined audience” that leads us to behave in certain ways online. Especially on dating sites like Tinder and Datemyschool, profiles are usually “constructed with a hyper-aware self-consciousness, as users knew that misspellings, cultural references, and even time stamps were likely to be scrutinized by potential suitors,” meaning that the audience would be able to make many judgements off of the few things that are available online. For the most part, this is true, but the younger audience also spends more time analyzing the image rather than reading the description since society has placed such a huge emphasis on physicality.

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[Image from Metro.co.uk]

Since its launch in September 2012, Tinder has produced 100 million “matches” and 7.5 billion profile rankings, with 2 million active users at a given time. As the numbers continue to grow, so will the number of teenagers who meet up with people online. Thus, there will be more people that lie about their actual age, their looks, and most importantly, their personalities. For the most part, I believe that online dating is harmful not only to people, but to social media overall, as it makes users more self-conscious about the way they present themselves through their social media profiles, therefore losing complete authenticity. However, there are multiple exceptions, as not everyone on dating sites and Facebook are looking for just a hook-up. I know several people that have met up with others through such apps, and some have been in relationships with their “matches” for several months. In those situations, I do think that we have reached a new age where social media can allow people to reach out of their usual circles and make the impossible encounter actually happen. But let’s all make sure that we take practical measures (and accurate selfies) before throwing ourselves out on such sites.

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