[Thoughts prompted by a (heated, personal) conversation among a subset of the housemates at Chez Justice about the benefits/pitfalls of CMC (computer-mediated communication) and walking around with headphones on.]
Online dating doesn't serve primarily to fill a need that's always existed; rather, its main function is to deal with limitations of our time, stemming from recent technological shifts. Online dating, in other words, wants primarily to be an antidote to the following scourges:
- cell phones
- portable music players
Attention-deficit technology: it fills a self-created niche. What do the above-listed technologies do? They destroy the productive presence of chance in our social lives. For the individual, they enrich the environment, but for the community, they act as barriers.
A person walking down the street talking on a cell phone is 'socializing' but isn't really being social. Yet look at kids: they do all these things at once, no? iPod in one ear, phone in the other, conversation happening too. Of course it's culturally conditioned (i.e. suburban WASPs probably have a different cell phone experience than urban blacks, in part because of the other social outlets they do/don't have, but that's changing and probably converging). This isn't just to say kids've mastered a kind of social interaction, though that's true: it's to say that they have countless tools for overcoming a lack they don't even realize they experience. (And wow that's a lot of italicized text up there.)
If someone learns to survive under shitty circumstances, to scrape by, we don't commend that person's lifestyle as a healthy and desirable one; when we valorize people remixing shitty corporate content into amusing paratexts we make precisely that mistake. Being in therapy isn't the same as 'being cured'. Do you see where I'm going here? Technologies of pleasure are too often also technologies of escape, and ours is a culture with a non-ideal relationship to social tech: so often we don't know how to differentiate between symptoms and diseases.
Sometimes you can't tell that you're scraping by.
So online dating for instance. A tool nominally bringing people together from afar, yet its adoption pushes people away from situations in which chance and social effort (risk-taking) might pay dividends. And so people learn less about working those situations, &c. And though we pretend in movies and TV shows that online dating poses a risk - of embarrassment, of bad blind date situations - really the point is to eliminate risk from dating. It flattens things out, risk and reward alike. (And I say this knowing that several of my friends are quite happy dating people they met online. I'm happy for them. I do not mean to imply that these people are 'scraping by' in their choice of a mate. But as far as methods for meeting people goes, it's one less-than-perfect choice or another, and it seems the least organic way of going about the business of mate-finding. Then again, one's 'mate' doesn't mean what it used to either - and maybe it's all of a piece, eh? On which more another time.)