The study of online relationships along with its construction is a fairly new research topic sociologist still need to explore. There is still so much to explore and learn about as new social contexts of human interaction emerges. For example, when society forms relationships through limited information on an online site, this may encourage users to judge others based on biases and furthermore can effect society and how individuals form relationships/attachments in the long run. Online dating is a newer reality and new dimension of human interaction that should be studied so that there is more knowledge on its effects to society and the culture of young adults of different backgrounds and sexual orientation.
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As online dating grows and more people participate, the more research and issues from the new phenomenon have developed. Today, online dating and apps have changed young adult date culture and each and every individual who have used these dating sites have their own unique experiences. Online dating gives individuals the chance to choose potential mates, but only based on the limited visual information listed in their profile compared to real life conversations. However this does not mean that interactions are limited only through the Internet, but enables both face to face and technological interaction. Users of these dating websites can navigate through a large pool of potential mates to make their dating lives simpler and less stressful. (Alhabash et al. 2014). These users can also exaggerate their attributes and characteristics to seem more desirable. Although many users have positive results and end up meeting their mates, other users can experience discrimination.
Before these dating sites and even before technology, people would meet in person or would have an arranged marriage, which was considered the norm. As time progressed, values and culture began to change. The dating world has changed, and with increased mobility individuals face, traditional dating has become more difficult (Finkel et al., 2012)
Online dating has become socially acceptable because of the company’s that make it so that these sites appeal to the masses. According to Kambara (2005), online dating is a business that has been successful because of the societal changes such as increased work pressure, reduced pressure to marry, and increased social mobility has given singles to open up the possibility of meeting someone online.
There are thousands of online dating services. Some sites even target a specific interest such as blackpeoplemeet.com, Christian mingle, to fit the demographic of your interest. According to Finked et al (2012), online dating sites serve three main purposes: connecting individuals to a database of any future or potential mate, using algorithms to calculate compatibility, and to enable communication between users. In this generation of dating, online dating sites (rather than the people) have the power to connect these users to a large database of future mates just from the way user are shown and can impact how individuals are selected. Then there are those apps that use proximity to determine matches. For example the very popular app, Tinder, allows users to input their desired age range and based on their profile picture, users can swipe right or left to determine whether they “like” that person or if they are uninterested.
When thinking about meeting a potential mate online, at first it does not sound safe especially because people only show themselves through a screen rather than in person. However, many young adults say it is safe. Couch, Liamputtong, and Pitts (2007) conducted a study to examine how online dating users perceive how risky and dangerous online dating actually is. Researchers in the study interviewed about 29 young adults who have used an online dating site. Researchers concluded that the main concern online users were worried about had to do with emotional vulnerability, violence, risk of pregnancy, or sexually transmitted diseases (Couch, Liamputtong, and Pitts 2007). So overall the study suggested that users do not believe online dating is any more dangerous than other methods of dating. Thee answers reflect how more and more people have positive comments on online dating and how it has become socially acceptable over the years.
Although it seems like many people agree that online dating has minimal risks, this dating method also comes with discrimination. The online world allows for almost any types of comments because these people are speaking behind a screen. Without realizing it, online dating sites can perpetuate racial discrimination. An experiment was conducted by Alhabesh et al (2014) about the impact online dating profiles and their visual cues have on racial stereotyping. In the study students were asked to rate how attractive each online dating used one; one was black and one was white. Research found that students would rate the one with a white profile picture as more attractive. In conclusion, people make judgments about others just by looking at a profile with limited information.
Lastly, some research also explores the “role of sociology in understanding the phenomenon of online dating (Barraket and Henry-Waring 2008:149). Barraket and Henry-Waring (2008) conducted a qualitative study of 23 online daters. The research concludes that online dating produces new norms within society and “opportunities for interaction, while at the same time reinforcing tradition norms and networks in which intimacy occurs” (Barraket and Henry-Waring 2008:164). However, more research must be done to really understand the sociological effect of the online world and differences between the virtual and physical world.