Online dating has become a social norm in today’s society. Both men and women, as young as college students, are developing patterns of participating in online dating. This online dependence on developing and maintaining relationships has expanded from friendship to love encounters. It is 2013 and majority of the population do not have time to meet a potential partner during their offline life. We tend to focus on personal growth, especially on education and our careers. These online dating sites provide an easy way to meet people you wouldn’t meet during your daily lives. Running into a coffee shop and spending three minutes to grab a latte will not give you the opportunity to meet a potential partner. Individuals no longer have time for face-to-face conversations during their offline lives. As a result, we are spending more time forming and creating a presentation of ourselves online. However, we find ourselves restricted to the technological affordances of the platforms that we use and meeting the requirements of being that “perfect” person.
The Internet has given us the opportunity to wear our pajamas while meeting beautiful and successful men and women on the Internet. You could be watching your favorite show, eating Chinese take-out, following up on emails, and talking to a potential partner on Match.com, OkCupid, or any of the several other dating sites. A woman could be posting the most beautiful pictures of herself from 10 years ago while simultaneously eating greasy Chinese take-out and lounging around in sweatpants and a t-shirt. She is presenting her “best self” in order to attract more men to her page. According to Baym, social media networking sites engineer self-presentation by providing pre-determined categories with which to build identities. For example, this particular user could lie about his or her weight or body type. The drop-down menu only allows a user to select from a number of body types. The users on this platform will have no idea while she was forming her identity online, she was actually being a couch potato with greasy take-out Chinese food in her hands. She could lie about her work out habits or eating habits. In the description of herself, this woman could easily present herself as a vegetarian or someone who is passionate about healthy eating habits.
We can argue that this idea is a good representation of technological determinism as well as social shaping of technology. Baym defined technological determinism as the ways in which the machines are using us and shaping the way we behave in society due to technological shaping. On the other hand, social shaping of technology is the cycle in which the technology and the social context influence each other. I believe we can argue that using social media networking sites as a form of online dating allows the machine to shape our behavior while simultaneously allowing the user to shape the way in which the machine or platform presents him or herself to the public. Even though we are putting on a performance or presenting ourselves a certain way online, our self presentation draw on previous conventions and customs, according to Baym.
According to “More People Find Romance Via Social Media,” online dating websites give users the opportunity to complete a more thorough search for the best-fit partner to propagate their genes.
As you can see from the profile above, this user has stated some of the most important aspects of himself that a potential partner or friend could be looking for. At the right of the page, based on the technological affordances, this user has answered some important questions regarding different physical traits. He is restricted to the information that is provided on the drop down menu of each category. This is a perfect example of the machine shaping us as users. However, if you look to the left where the user can answer open-ended questions, you can see that this is where the user is able to influence the medium while shaping his or her identity to the public.
Users on online dating websites cannot be influenced by content posted by others. Their profiles are completely self-created. Online dating doesn’t just allow us to decide how to act, but it also allows us to decide whom to be. This is the idea of the reflexive product of the self that Giddens discussed. Online dating profiles give users the opportunity to shape their identities through images and words. In “Imaging, keyboarding, and posting identities: Young people and new media technologies,” Weber and Mitchell talks about the convergence culture, where “boundaries between old and new media are blurred, and elements of each are blended and adapted to meet emerging needs.” This is a great way to think of social networking sites that enable online dating. Matchmaking is a very ancient tradition that the Internet has revolutionized into online dating sites. We allow the Internet or the medium to find us the best fit man or woman based on the identity that we create for ourselves.