Dating in the Digital Age

· Personal Investigations
Authors

I’ve had an interesting journey as a single. When I was young and first became interested in the world of relationships, we were still in the late ’80’s. I remember writing little notes and leaving secret gifts for girls in church I had crushes on. It was necessary at the time because my time around them was limited and because I had to make the best of each and every time I was in contact with them. Then we progressed into the ’90’s, and the Internet, online dating, and social media were born. At first, it was weird and awkward, but it quickly became popular. Within twenty years, the world of dating and flirting has transitioned from written notes and exchanging smiles to online avatars, friendship statuses, texting, Instagram, and emojis. After living through this transition and participating in it to quite an extent, I’ve come to the conclusion that relationships are far too complex for digital communication, and I’m consistently moving myself further away from it in favor of more personal interactions.

Digital Epistemology: How do we know what we know?

This is perhaps the biggest problem I’ve personally encountered with digital communication (not just in dating). The truth is, there’s a lot of information on the Internet. And social media has given us the means to access to a lot of information about our crush. But how do we know what to make of the information we find? Firstly, there are certainly people who present a false front online. Probably everyone has personal examples of this. Personally, I regularly get friend invitations on Facebook from ‘women’ who have stunning (and usually revealing) profile pictures – as well as a long list of friends who are all male. As a programmer, I recognize that these ‘women’ are actually spam bots that are programmed to target the information I have listed in my profile page, but many men actually think these are real women. Secondly, there is a lot of genuine information about our crush that can easily be misinterpreted due to incompletion or lack of context. This is the bane of digital communication and the reason why users and programmers are constantly trying to give us better means of personalizing our digital communication with things like emojis. I’ve lost track of the number of misinterpretations between me and my friends and family via messaging that have led to confusion and hurt feelings. It’s because communication is much more than just the words we use. We think we know what those words mean. We may even think about all of the other possible interpretations of what those words mean, settling after much thought on the one that seems most likely to be true. But in the end, we simply don’t know what we think we know unless the communication is elaborate and complete, which almost never happens.

Organic vs Synthetic

I’m a scientist and a hobbyist programmer, and I have a deep fascination and respect for digital technology. But I have come to believe that communication in relationships is best conducted in person. I’ve studied social communication for years. If there is one thing that has really stood out to me, it’s how a personal communication adapts and evolves between two people, just like every other aspect of a relationship. It’s a process that builds and grows based upon numerous avenues of feedback – verbal, nonverbal, contextual, and past communication are just a few of the things that are important enough to fundamentally change the nature of a conversation. When interacting in person, our brains are processing all this input at a rate far beyond the capability of any digital computer, often behind the curtain of our consciousness. How he positions his body toward her when he gave that subtle flirt, or how she tilts her head and looks down when he complimented her are things that are very difficult to misinterpret in person, but which are nearly impossible to communicate digitally.

My Take On It

By this point, I’ve probably already made it clear that I’m not a fan of digital communication in dating and courtship. That hasn’t always been the case, however. I’ve asked quite a few girls out over social media and messaging, something that makes me cringe when I look back on it now. And I’m still not completely opposed to using digital communication to pursue a girl if that’s the only option I have with her. I still interact and flirt with girls online just to let them know they’ve caught my attention, but if I have any other option for interacting with them, especially if I can interact with them in person, that is most certainly what I will do. When it comes to dating and courtship, good communication is critical, and digital communication is a poor substitute for real interaction. I’ve done it both ways, and interacting with a cute profile picture or a text bubble just doesn’t do it for me anymore.

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