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Internet relationships are interpersonal relationships, often including intimate relationships, between people who have met online, and in many cases know each other only via the Internet. Online relationships are similar in many ways to pen pal relationships. Some people who are in an online relationship also participate in cybersex, which is a virtual sex encounter in which two or more people who are connected remotely via computer network send each other sexually explicit messages describing a sexual experience. The term "Internet Relationship" also refers to a connection between two or more individuals based on friendship, business, etc., not limited solely to intimate relationships.
According to J. Michael Jaffe, author of Gender, Pseudonyms, and CMC: Masking Identities and Baring Souls, "the Internet was originally established to expedite communication between governmental scientists and defense experts, and was not at all intended to be the popular 'interpersonal mass medium' it has become", yet new and revolutionary devices enabling the mass public to communicate online are constantly being developed and released. Rather than having many devices for different uses and ways of interacting, communicating online is more accessible and cheaper by having an Internet function built into one device, such as mobile phones, laptops, iPads, smartphones, and iPhones. Other ways of communicating online with these devices are via services and applications such as Email, Skype, IChat, asynchronous discussion groups, and the World Wide Web. Some of these ways of communicating online are asynchronous (meaning not in real time), such as Youtube and some are synchronous (immediate communication), such as Twitter. Synchronous communication occurs when two or more participants are interacting in real time.
Internet dating is very relevant in the lives of many individuals world wide A major benefit in the rise of internet dating is the decrease in prostitution. People no longer need to search on the streets to find casual relationships. They can find them online if that is what they desire. Instead of paying for sexual favors and “love” on the streets with the risk of being arrested, publicly humiliated, or catching sexually transmitted diseases, internet dating websites offer matchmaking services for people to find love or whatever else they may be looking for. The creation of the internet and its progressive innovations have opened up doors for people to meet other people who they may very well have never met otherwise.
Although the availability of uploading videos to the internet is not a new innovation, it has been made easier since 2008 thanks to Youtube. Youtube began the surge of video streaming sites in 2005 and within three years, smaller web developers started implementing video sharing on their sites. Internet dating sites have benefitted greatly since the surge in easiness and accessibility of picture and video uploading. Videos and pictures are equally important for most personal profiles. These profiles can be found on sites used for interpersonal relationships other than dating as well. Sites such as Ashley Madison and Sugardaddy.com are popular places where people can go for more casual and sexual online encounters. "The body, although graphically absent, does not have to be any less present." Older and less advanced sites usually still allow, and often require, each user to upload a picture. Newer and more advanced sites offer the possibility of streaming media live via the user's profile for the site. The inclusion of videos and pictures has become almost a necessity for sexual social networking sites to maintain the loyalty of their members. It is appealing to internet users to be able to view and share videos, especially when forming relationships or friendships.
Previously, only "desperate" and "nerdy" people were thought to turn to the internet to search for love. According to an article in the New York Times, mediated matchmaking has been around since the mid 1800s. Online dating was made available in the mid 1990s, with the creation of the first dating sites. These dating sites, such as lavalife.com, Jiyuan, Zoosk, BharatMatrimony, eHarmony, PlentyofFish, Match.com, and hundreds of others create a space for liberation of sexuality. According to Sam Yagan of OkCupid, "the period between New Year's Day and Valentine's Day is [our] busiest six weeks of the year". Changes that online dating companies have created include not only the increase of pickiness in singles, but the rise in interracial marriages and spread the acceptance of homosexual individuals. Dating sites "are a place where sexual minorities, inter-sexed people and gay people are enjoying a newly found freedom". Several studies have shown the availability of online dating to produce a greater closeness and intimacy between individuals because it circumvents barriers that face-to-face interactions might have. "Participating in personal relationships online allow for almost full freedom from power relations in the offline/real world."
A plethora of virtual sexual identities are represented in online profiles. The amount of personal information users are being asked to provide is constantly increasing. More and more online users are starting to explore and experiment with aspects of their sexual identities, whereas before, they may have felt uncomfortable due to social constraints or fear of possible repercussions. Most internet sites containing personal profiles require individuals to fill in "personal information" sections. Often these sections include a series of multiple choice questions. Due to the anonymity of these virtual profiles, individuals are more frequent to ‘role’-play at being one of the predefined ‘types,’ although offline, reservations may inhibit the individual from sharing true answers. The inclusion of videos and pictures has become almost a necessity for sexual social networking sites to maintain the loyalty of their members. It is appealing to internet users to be able to view and share videos, especially when forming relationships or friendships.
There have also been many studies done to observe online daters and their reason for turning to the internet to look for romantic partners. According to Dr. Robert J. Brym and Dr. Rhonda L. Lenton, users of online games, websites, and other virtual communities are encouraged to conceal their identities and learn things about themselves that they never knew before. With a concealed identity, an online user can be whoever they want to be at that exact moment. They have the ability to venture outside of their comfort zone and act as someone completely different.
The Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication reports the results of a study conducted by Robert J. Stephure, Susan D. Boon, Stacy L. MacKinnon, and Vicki L. Deveau on types of relationships online participants were seeking. They concluded that "when asked what they were looking for in an online relationship, the considerable majority of participants expressed interest in seeking fun, companionship, and someone to talk to. Most also reported interests in developing casual friendships and dating relationships with online partners. Substantially fewer reported using the Internet for the speciﬁc purposes of identifying potential sexual or marital partners."
Faye Mishna, Alan McLuckie, and Michael Saini, co-authors of the Oxford Journal article Real-World Dangers in an Online Reality: A Qualitative Study Examining Online Relationships and Cyber Abuse, reported the results of their research and observation of over 35,000 individuals between the ages of 6 and 24 who have been or currently are a part of an internet relationship. Of the final 346 posts chosen to be included in the study, the average age of online users sharing information about their online relationship(s) was 14 years old. The overwhelming result was that children and youth consider their online relationships to be just as "real" as their offline relationships. The study also showed that the internet plays a crucial role in most sexual and romantic experiences of adolescent users.
An often forgotten aspect on online interactions is the possible danger present. The option for an individual to conceal their identity may be harmless in many cases but it can also lead to extremely dangerous situations. Hidden identities are often used in cases of Cyber-bullying and Cyberstalking. Concealing your true identity is also a technique that can be used to manipulate your new online friend or lover into convincing them you are someone completely different. This is something most online predators do in order to prey on victims. Despite the awareness of dangers, Mishna et al. found children and youth to still partake in online relationships with little care or concern for negative effects. Brym and Lenton also claim that "although [their] true identities are usually concealed, they sometimes decide to meet and interact in real life".
Canaan Partners, who back companies including BharatMatrimony.com and Zoosk.com, have reported that the dating industry brings in an estimate of 3-4 billion dollars yearly from membership fees and advertisements. The range of dating sites has expanded vastly over the past two decades. There are dating websites that focus on the matchmaking of certain groups of people based on religion, sexual preference, race, etc.
The average life expectancy has been on a rise, leaving many young singles feeling as if they have plenty of time to find a Life partner. This opens up time to travel and experience things without the burden of a relationship. As of 1996, more than 20% of Canadians "were not living in the same census subdivision as they were five years earlier" and as of 1998, more than half of employed Canadians worried "they [did] not have enough time to spend with their family and friends". Due to an increase in many businesses requiring their employees to travel, singles, often young professionals, find online dating websites to be the perfect answer to their "problem", states Brym and Lenton.
Erik Shipmon, author of “Why Do People Date Online?", exclaims, "the Internet is the ultimate singles’ bar—without the noise, the drunks, and the high cost of all those not-so-happy hours. Nor, thanks to online dating membership sites, do you have to depend on your friends and family to hook you up with people they think would be perfect for you—and who wouldn’t be perfect for, well, anyone, which is why they are still unattached”.
Even in work settings, the introduction of the internet has established easier and sometimes more practical forms of communicating. The internet is often referred to as a vehicle for investor relations or the "electronic highway" for business transactions in the United States. The Internet has increased organizational involvement by facilitating the flow of information between face-to-face meetings and allowing for people to arrange meetings at virtually any given time. Socially, it has stimulated positive change in people’s lives by creating new forms of online interaction and enhancing offline relationships worldwide, allowing for better and more efficient business communication.
For more intimate relationships, research has shown that personal disclosures have created a greater sense of intimacy. This gives a sense of trust and equality, which people search for in a relationship, and this is often easier to achieve online than face to face, although not all disclosures are responded to positively. Individuals are able to engage in more self disclosure than an average interaction, because a person can share their inner thoughts, feelings and beliefs and be met with less disapproval and fewer sanctions online than is the case in face-to-face encounters.
Online, barriers that might stand in the way of relationship such as physical attractiveness, social anxiety and stuttering do not exist. Whereas those could hinder an individual in face-to-face encounters, an Internet interaction negates this and allows the individual freedom. Research has shown that stigmas such as these can make a large impact on first impressions in face-to-face meeting, and this does not apply with an online relationship. The Internet "enhances face-to-face and telephone communication as network members become more aware of each others' needs and stimulate their relationships through more frequent contact".
The Internet provides the opportunity for misrepresentation. Particularly in the early stages of a relationship when commitment is low, and self-presentation and enhancement agendas are paramount, according to Tice et al. (1995). After receiving many complaints about his social networking site Ashley Madison, founder Noel Biderman responded to accusations that his and other similar cyber-dating sites are at fault for the" rising divorce rates and growth in casual dating". Biderman argued that the idea for Ashleymadison.com came to him when he realized the growing number of people on "mainstream dating sites" were married or in a relationship but posing as singles in order to start an affair.
In an empirical study of commitment and misrepresentation on the internet Cornwell and Lundgren (2001) surveyed 80 chat-room users. Half about their 'realspace' relationships, and half about their cyberspace relationships. They found that 'realspace' relationships were considered to be more serious, with greater feelings of commitment, than the cyber-relationship participants. Both groups, however, reported similar levels of satisfaction and potential for 'emotional growth' with regard to romantic relationships. Cornwell and Lundgren went on to ask about whether the participants had misrepresented themselves to their partner in a number of areas: their interests (e.g. hobbies, musical tastes); their age; their background; their appearance and 'mis-presentation of yourself in any other way' (p. 203). Participants responded using either yes or no to each question, and their score was summed into a misrepresentation measure. The results can be found below:
|Misrepresentation of...||Cyberspace relationship||Realspace relationship|
Since the creation of the Internet, communication has become one of it is prime uses. It has become an ubiquitous force in people’s everyday lives due to the increase in the regularity and quality of interaction. The internet has also created a new approach to human relationships, and it has changed the way people connect to one another in their social worlds. Online relationships have also changed which effective strategies we use to perform maintenance on our relationships, depending on the exclusivity of the internet the relationship. In the past, postal services made communication possible without the necessity of physical presence, and the invention of the telephone allowed synchronous communication between people across long distances. The internet combined the advantages of both mail and telephone, unifying the speed of the telephone with the written character of the mail service. The evolution of communication within the Internet has arguably changed the nature of individuals' relationships with one another. Some see a major negative impact resulting in an increased use of internet communication is of its diversion of true community because online interaction via computers is often regarded as a more impersonal communication medium than face- to- face communication. Others consider the incorporation of the internet allowing online activities to be "viewed as an extension of offline activities". The multiple techniques that humans use to communicate, such as taking turns or nodding in agreement, are absent in these settings. Without the body language cues present in a face-to-face conversation, such as pauses or gestures, participants in instant messaging may type over one another's messages without necessarily waiting for a cue to talk. Also, with or without the correct grammar, tone and context can be misunderstood.
In 1991, Stone argued that when virtual communities began forming, this process generated a new type of social space where people could still apparently meet face-to-face, but this required a re-definition of the terms “meet” and “face-to-face.” These virtual communities allowed people to effortless access others, and in many ways to feel better connected, feel that they receive greater support from others, and to obtain emotional satisfaction from their families, communities and society.
In 1987, this understanding of social spaces was challenged by scholars such as James Beniger. Beniger questioned whether these virtual communities were “real” or were pseudo communities, “a pattern relating that, while looking highly interpersonal interaction, is essentially impersonal.” He put forward the idea that in a society within the virtual world, participants lack the necessary honesty it would take to create a “real” virtual community.
In many cases the introduction of the Internet as a social instigator may cause a repercussion leading to a weakening of social ties. In a study conducted in 1998, Robert Kraut et al. discovered that Internet users were becoming less socially involved. They linked this to an increase in loneliness and depression in relation to use of the Internet. Though these findings may have been sound, in a later study, Kraut et al. revisited his original study with the idea of expanding his current initial sample and correlating it with new subsequently collected longitudinal data. This synthesis produced a different outcome than the one that Kraut had originally presented.
In this newer paper, Kraut stated that there were fewer negative affects than he had originally found, and in some cases the negative effect had vanished. In the second study he saw that small positive effects began to appear in social involvement and psychological well-being. Assessing the effect of the Internet over a period of time, he saw people’s use of the Internet increase in sophistication.
During the Kraut et al. study, the researchers asked reclusive people if they use the Internet to counteract the loss of social skills that are needed in face-to-face encounters. They also asked people with strong social skills whether they use the Internet to amplify their abilities to network amongst people. The study discovered that these people who already possessed strong social skills were the ones who received the most beneficial outcome to using the Internet. The concluding analysis was, that rather than helping to decrease the difference between those who already had social skills compared with those lacking in social skills, internet use had actually exacerbated the differences in the skill level needed for social interaction.
This theory was later challenged in a study, by McKenna et al., that indicated that people who are more socially inept use the internet to create an initial contact which allows them to explore their “true self" within these interactions. These social interactions within cyberspace tend to lead to closer and high quality relationships which influence face-to-face encounters. In essence, these findings meant that although it is not clear whether the internet helps reclusive people develop better social skills, it does allow reclusive people to form relationships that may not have existed otherwise because of their lack of comfort with interpersonal situations in general. When these relationships emerge into face-to-face relationships it is hard to distinguish these relationships from those that started as face-to-face interactions. Future studies on this topic may allow scholars to define whether or not society is becoming too dependent on the Internet as a social tool.
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