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Love Connection on Instant Message January 29, 2009

Posted by yakshi in communication, technology, visual culture.
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http://www.nytimes.com/2008/05/25/fashion/25love.html?pagewanted=1&sq=modern%20love%20runner-up&st=cse&scp=5

The above is an article entitled “Instant Message, Instant Girlfriend” by rising college sophomore Roger Hobbs, written for the New York Times’ Modern Love college essay contest. I thought of this essay instantly after reading “My Laptop” by Anna Newitz in Evocative Objects. As in Newitz’s reflection, Hobbs discusses how our internet aliases provide anonymity that allow us to share more about ourselves and our emotions online. Because we do not have to worry about physical interaction while chatting or flirting on the internet, we can be more candid with our thoughts and take time composing our responses. The internet also opens a virtual forum for dating, providing many more prospective boyfriends and girlfriends than in everyday life. Instead of happening upon your crush at school and talking for five minutes in the hallway, their screenname provides a direct, informal connection to them. Talking online expedites a normal relationship, and provides a certain distance that makes people more prone to sharing their secrets and life stories. As Hobbs eloquently remarks, “The Internet is the real world. Only faster.” 

Is the internet an operator that allows people to fall in love? You could argue that an all-night instant message conversation is comparable to a five-hour phonecall, but what about the lack of human connection. In an IM conversation you cannot hear inflections in a person’s voice or hesitations in their speech. Instead you develop an imaginary sense of their physical qualities as Newitz did, her crush’s body was “the feel of slightly concave keys nestled in a brushed stainless steel tray. His breath was the sound of  a fan cooling the CPU.” Now whenever Newitz turns on her laptop, she sees “a shadow of him flicker past.” Our we developing relationships with machines or with people? And if we are building relationships with internet aliases, will their online counterparts match up to their genuine personalities? As young people, are our relationships deficient of human interaction? With more and more substitutes for communicating in person (IM, gchat, text messages, email, BBM, facebook and facebook chat, twitter…), I think the best solution is relying on operators that allow you to talk in real time. Conversation should not be so composed or deliberate, and as Hobbs learns their are severe disadvantages to establishing artificial relationships.

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