ASU professor says technology adding dimensionality to digital communication
For the app aficionado in today’s 5G world, waxing nostalgic on what dating and romance used to be may only go back as far the dial-up modem that brought “Shopgirl” and “NY152” together in the pre-HD-produced rom-com “You’ve Got Mail.” It was a slow technological connection for a slow romantic buildup, and now – by modern standards – a rather “dated” recall for partner pairings when compared to the “likes,” “swipes” and “DM slides” that engineer today’s romantic rendezvous.
Online dating is the No. 1 way to meet a romantic partner in the U.S., says Liesel Sharabi, assistant professor in the Hugh Downs School of Human Communication and director of the Relationships and Technology Lab at Arizona State University.
Sharabi, whose research focuses on the connection between communication technologies and interpersonal relationships, says the growth of dating applications over the past decade continues to attract more people to the digital ecosystem and break taboos that once kept hesitant users away from the platform. And, as the AOL dial-up in “You’ve Got Mail” was once considered game-changing for the dating experience, Sharabi says emerging communication technology continues to push the boundaries for creating connections.
Online dating is booming, changing in pandemic era
Question: “You’ve Got Mail” has been hailed as the quintessential online dating movie. But so much has changed since the classic 1998 rom-com, especially with the explosion of social media over the past 15 years or so. Hypothetically speaking, how do you think the romance between Meg Ryan’s Kathleen, aka “Shopgirl,” and Tom Hanks’ Joe, aka “NY152,” would play out in this age of Instagram, Twitter, Facebook and other online platforms?
Answer: “You’ve Got Mail” was important for bringing online relationships into the mainstream, but things have changed a lot since 1998. These days, many of our relationships are multimodal, meaning they tend to play out across multiple platforms. Joe and Kathleen probably wouldn’t have gone straight from talking online to meeting in person. They would’ve exchanged numbers, followed each other on social media, and had ample opportunity to gather information and learn more about each other. It’s difficult to imagine how they would have been able to continue the relationship as long as they did without uncovering each other’s offline identities.
Q: Online dating has disrupted more traditional ways of meeting romantic partners. Its rapidly rising popularity also comes at a time when more people are delaying marriage or choosing to remain single, according to recent studies. What has your research uncovered about the upsides and downsides of online dating in the search for communication connections and lasting relationships?
A: One of the clear advantages of online dating is that it introduces people to a larger pool of potential partners. This is huge, especially for people who might have limited opportunities to meet others just going about their day-to-day routines. However, as with most technologies, there can also be downsides. My research has shown that people sometimes struggle with knowing when to quit online dating and leave the single life behind. With so many options available, it can start to seem like there’s always someone better out there if you just keep swiping. I’ve also conducted research on deception in online dating and its impact on first dates. People worry about being “catfished” in online dating, which is of course something everyone should be mindful of.
However, you are more likely to encounter people who exaggerate or misrepresent themselves in more subtle ways – because they want to appear attractive, not because they’re trying to trick or mislead you. You want to be safe and protect yourself, but also know that the “great pretenders” who often make headlines don’t represent all online daters.