Life is complicated and unfortunately, during the 1980’s when service providers opened to the public, the Internet made life even more complicated. The internet was, and continues to be, a complicated thing in itself; with thousands of passwords to memorize, keeping in contact through emails, and even worries about stolen identities. When we combine the social aspect of face-to- face interaction in life with the concerns of honesty and reliability of the internet, how complicated can things get before the effort out-weighs the rewards? This is the question asked by Erich Merkle and Rhonda Richardson in their article “Digital Dating and Virtual Relating: Conceptualizing Computer Mediated Romantic Relationships.” Merkel and Richardson argue that the combination of social interaction and the internet has led to “The creation of a new civilization—one that exists on the shimmering surface of our computer screens.” The internet allows us to expand our spatial proximity, to invest in deeper disclosure, to easily flee from conflict and deepen what it means to be faithful. Social interactions and relationships on the internet expands who we are able to come in contact with; globally, 120.5 million people use the internet, providing a greater chance that one will find someone they are compatible with. Likewise, the internet, namely chat rooms, allows for a sense of anonymity, therefore offering a sense of security and subsequently more detailed and intimate disclosure. This was seen in the short film Noah, when the main character entered into a chat room and the other participant offered to answer any question he asked honestly. On the other hand however, the internet also puts the person in control of when to leave the relationship without having to consider the consequences for the other person. To balance this negative effect, the internet also causes us to question if infidelity should only be considered sexual encounters or if the definition should also include emotional encounters, such as disclosing very intimate details. The delicate balance of disclosure and control demanded by relationships on the internet is very similar to those demands of face-to-face relationships; a relationship Merkle and Richardson struggled determining. However, Merkle and Richardson forgot to discuss a very important component of face-to face relationships that is heavily compromised by the internet: trust.
While Merkel and Richardson did touch on the aspect of self- disclosure and how anonymity allows people to share intimate details, they did not mention how trust can be compromised through online relationships. In the short film, Noah, social media platforms, specifically Facebook, allowed the main actor to hack into his now ex- girlfriend’s Facebook account and read her messages. Not only was this act caused by a lack of trust (another male character liking his ex-girlfriend’s photos) but also resulted in a loss of trust by his girlfriend (the subsequent blocking of him from her Facebook page). Likewise, the internet provides a space for people to experiment with different personality and aliases. With this ability to manipulate ones identity, anyone can pretend to be anyone. As seen in the first video in this article, a thirteen year old girl “fell in love” with a twenty one year old man who had raped three other teenage girls. As Marty McPadden and Misty McPadden advise in their article 7 Truths about Social Media and Online Relationships, not everyone is truthful about who they say they are on social media and people will and can hurt you. Without this ability to remove the veil that the internet holds so tightly in place, it is not possible to form an authentic relationship.
Unfortunately, however, Markel and Richardson are correct in saying that today’s world is lived through our computer screens. Relationships are started, lived and ended on the internet. For those relationships that did start in a classroom, a bar, a workplace, or any other face-to- face interaction center, digital media still has its influence; is has become the Miracle Grow that allows a relationship to flourish to its full potential. Text messages, Facebook chat, and e-mails alike all allow couples to check in with one another throughout a long day of work. Some people argue that this ability to check in is so vital to the stability of the relationship that they have developed an app that allows automated text messages to be sent form your phone to your significant other without any effort on the sender’s end. This app can even detect the receiver’s Wi-Fi so that the message does not send if both parties are connected to the same network, allowing the app to fly under the receiver’s radar. Consequently, the future generation will no longer know what it feels like to initiate face-to-face contact with someone, to fight for a relationship instead of ignoring Skype calls, or to even be honest with the people they care about. With that being said, I fear that intimacy will soon dwindle out of our practice and eventually vocabulary, leaving future generations struggling with the formation of all relationships, whether it be with a lover or a friend.