Falling in “Love” in Cyberspace

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When I was younger, I held this skewed, exaggerated understanding of the concept of love. In my eyes, love was instant and eternal, an undetected tornado that ravaged one’s heart forever. Looking back on it, I realize that I may have been spoon-fed one too many Disney films; these films mystified love and I was impressionable. I also realize that although I did hold the mystified understanding of love that these films promoted, I held an understanding of the realistic ways in which it was initiated. I understood that love was a product of sequential real-life interactions. In The Little Mermaid, Ariel and Prince Eric fall into this mystified love, but only after a series of interactions. Nearly twenty years later, I have a realistic understanding of love, but not of the interactions that initiate it; technology has complicated these interactions.

Over the past twenty years, computer technology has changed drastically. One can now interact with another through messaging, social media and video chatting. Although this interaction differs from traditional interaction, it can initiate “love.” In “Digital Dating and Virtual Relating: Conceptualizing Computer Mediated Romantic Relationships,” Erich R. Merkle and Rhonda A. Richardson describe the complicated nature of these interactions or relationships, what they call “Computer Mediated Romantic Relationships” (187). They present four complicating factors in the paper, the first being “Realtionship Formation and Dissolution.” In these relationships, spatial proximity is not guaranteed, allowing two distant people to discuss, form a relationship and either break up easily due to the fact that their relationship exists in cyberspace, or stick together due to the initial personal connection that is created within it (189). They also posit “Self Discolsure.” One can remain anonymous on the internet, disclosing gender, and other personal aspects, allowing strictly intimate relationships (189). Thirdly, they present the complicating factor of “Conflict Management.” On the internet, one can disengage when they feel threatened or uncomfortable, a damaging practice that could migrate into real life (190). Lastly, they present “Relationship Infidelity.” They state, “Because heightened self-disclosure is a central feature of computer mediated relationships that sparks powerful emotional bonds between two individuals,it seems plausible to suggest that infidelity within cyber space is better accounted by emotional betrayal than sexual involvement” (190). In such a case, talking to another in a chat-room may be considered infidelity. The internet also provides avenues of sexual infidelity, pornography, erotic chat-rooms and other sexual content (190). The complications that CMRs present are just a small fraction of the complications that technology has created in real life as a whole.

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The factors that Merkle and Richardson present are best illustrated in the short film, Noah (2013). In the film, the main character watches pornography, until a video chat from his girlfriend interrupts, infidelity. After several minutes of talking, the couple gets into a discrepancy, prompting the girlfriend to sign off of the video chat, an example of conflict management. Bored on the internet, the main character video chats with strangers, self-disclosure. Later, he hacks his girlfriend’s Facebook page to end their relationship, a quick and easy dissolution. Although it is just a film, Noah, illustrates the ways technology has complicated relationships realistically; it displays why it is impossible to have a fulfilling emotional and sexual relationship via the internet. The main character in the film doesn’t truly interact with his girlfriend, he acts in accordance with the definition of interaction technology has created, a mere imitation of true human interaction. In turn, the “relationship” and the “love” that they have for one another is also an imitation, for it is based off of these interactions. He hides behind his computer screen, partaking in activities that are not only immoral, but also distracting from the conversation, meaningless, insincere “interaction.” The girlfriend is oblivious to what he is doing during these “interactions;” she doesn’t truly know him. Not truly knowing another makes it hard to have a fulfilling sex life, especially over the internet, as symbolized by the main character’s indulgence in pornography. If one cannot truly know another, any relationship is nearly impossible, let alone one via the internet.

In my personal experience, I find it easier for people to partake in truly human, romantic interactions with one another, those face-to-face. These interactions allow two people to get an honest idea of what kind of person the other is; there is no deception. If one likes the other, he or she can interact further, forming a relationship and perhaps love. If one dislikes the other,  he or she can stop interacting with the other. Plus, it is easier to maintain a face-to-face relationship. Two people can experience life together: laugh, cry, smile, hurt, and love; all that is human. I feel as though the rise of CMRs deprive us of this humanity; it degrades human interaction, relationships and emotion. I fear that the number of CMRs will only grow over time, future generations eager and willing to trade in their humanity for the imitation of it that technology creates. What if Ariel and Prince Eric met over Facebook? Would The Little Mermaid be as iconic as it is today? No, I didn’t think so.

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