Last time out, I offered a quick summary of the online dating services that have surged, with singles living online.
If you are 40 years old in 2015, you were 15 years old in 1990. Teen interest in sex certainly existed; the Internet dating scene did not. And that scene is reshaping teen life, where it is not your imagination that many spend almost every waking moment immersed in an electronic device.
Readers may remember British writer Aldous Huxley’s “soft” dystopia, Brave New World (1932), set in London in AD 2540. In the “perfect society,” sex is plentiful but serious relationships are impossible.
The Internet has shaved centuries off Huxley’s timeline, as Silicon Valley billionaires market Brave New World values directly to Generation Z, born in the digital age. The Internet, by its very nature, promotes relationships that are casual, evanescent, faceless, and graceless.
Yahoo News tells us a bit about Generation Z:
These youngsters, born after 1995 and unaware of a world without Internet, live a life that seems a million miles removed from the hopes, dreams and morals of previous generations.
People from Generation Z find it easier to talk online than in person. Their friends on social media are as important to them as their friends in real life but sometimes they do actually meet up in person with these “virtual” pals.
More than eight out of 10 are hooked on social networks and more than half of them think that this is where their real social life takes place.
One outcome is that their attitudes and behaviour often differ radically from those of people who mostly live in actual, not virtual, reality. Just three examples from Nancy Jo Sales at Vanity Fair:
– Sexuality is displayed without any pretense of emotional intimacy.
There’s sexting, and there’s Snapchat, where teenagers share pictures of their bodies or body parts; on Skype, sometimes they strip for each other or masturbate together.
In the days of actual, as opposed to virtual reality, nudity meant an intimate scene with a loved one.
Casual nude pix turned out badly for one girl:
“My friend, she was VC-ing,” or video chatting, “this guy she was kind of dating,” Melissa said. “He sent so many nudes to her, but she wasn’t trusting that he wouldn’t show the pictures to other people. So she Skyped him and showed him nudes that way. He took a screenshot without her knowing it. He sent it to so many people and the entire baseball team. She was whispered about and called names. It’s never gone away. He still has it and won’t delete it.”
Note that they were “‘kind of” dating. No commitment from either side meant no consequences for him. In an actual reality community, it might all have gone quite differently—especially for him.
– Some people respond to a painful breakup by stalking. Social media feed their obsessions by enabling vast amounts of information about the departed object of affection—easily, anonymously, and in relative comfort. Teens told Sales of their intricate Machiavellian strategies for staying virtually hooked to the pain. In actual reality, by contrast, the trouble, discomfort, and potential embarrassment of stalking probably taper off the grief more quickly.
– Bullying can be very much worse on the Internet because it is virtual, therefore seemingly reality-optional. One girl, following a fight with a friend, became the victim of the “Anti-Daphne Movement.” A ten-minute vid on YouTube portrayed her in the worst possible light, with the goal of getting her to kill herself:
“He showed a picture of me. He said my name. He recounted all the details of the fight. He said I was ugly and that I should kill myself. He told everyone on Facebook, ‘I’m a member of this movement. If Daphne has ever done anything to you, post about it.’”
“It caught on really fast. I had a lot of people writing really mean messages to me and deleting me as a friend [on Facebook]. I had never done anything to these people. At school they would put gross things in my bag, cottage cheese in my binder. It got over all my homework.
She survived, but there were no consequences for the YouTube goon responsible. Yes, actual communities can be towns without pity. But if the goon had tried it in non-virtual reality, the victim could lay non-virtual charges.
In discussing these social changes, I have avoided raising moral issues for a good reason. Teens behaved immorally and cruelly in the past. The problem with Internet dating isn’t so much the lack of morality as the lack of actuality. All relationships become shallow and fungible when reality is optional. Behaviour worsens naturally. Everyone becomes a bit of a sociopath.
Which is why the schmaltzy “love at last!” claims—a staple ending to even the critical articles about Internet dating in mainstream media—sound so fishy.
Of course it can happen; so can a two-headed puppy. But the puppy wasn’t designed to be two-headed. And the Internet is not designed for intimacy or long-lasting relationships.
Indeed, the “love” note on which such pieces end usually turns out to just be the first stage of a shackup that may not last out the year. Then the parties are back date surfing again.
People who want love should not be looking for it on the Internet. But the teens who are looking do not seem to know what love is anyway. That may speak to their parents’ beliefs and behaviour as much as anything.
Next: How Internet dating helps mainstream porn.
Note: A film of Brave New World was made in 1998. Audiobook at YouTube. Film version by BBC (1980). video SparkNotes
The trailer below is approved for all audiences; it is the film itself that is restricted.
Denyse O’Leary is a Canadian journalist, author, and blogger.