lior frenkel Guest Post - Virtual Dating

She’s standing next to the beach. Her arms stretched out in the air, hair blowing in the wind, a childish smile all over her face. The sunset light makes her skin look great, or was she always this beautiful? In that position, it’s hard to tell how big her bottom is...


Black skinny dress. Cigarette smoke around her. She’s wearing heels, but not the high ones - great - she shouldn’t be too tall. The shelves of whiskey and vodka just behind complete this perfect atmosphere. Wait a sec, doesn’t she have school tomorrow? mmm... is she a naughty girl?


Charming ginger curls, cutesy freckles on her nose. The ears are hidden - are they too big or just shaped weird? Around her are many friends sitting on a summer blanket in a super sunny day. Behind her, someone is playing frisbee. On her left, three puppies. They are happy too. Her body language shows she’s in good mood. Or maybe she’s just acting for the camera?

<click> <click> <click> <click> ….

What is our “virtual identity”? Is it an extension of our real-life identity, or a total fake, showing only our good and lovely sides?

Back in the nineties, Internet got popular, reaching almost every house. The researchers of the web during that time were very scared of what they saw; They were afraid the web will diminish the surfers’ real identity, that they will prefer to live their fake virtual identity, that meeting in cafes or on street benches will stop happening. At that time, our virtual identities were hidden behind a “nickname” consisting of a word or two. Short nicknames such as “Coolest25” or “HotChick21” represented ourselves. A bit later arrived the avatars - illustrated versions of people - all looking quite nice, and not with limited choices.

But nowadays the situation is very different. We got used to flickering between the virtual and the real world, especially thanks to the smartphones. Our virtual identity is now much more than a nickname - it’s a real extension of the “real” us. The researchers were in the wrong - the virtual social networks are actually helping us, and even pushing us to maintain connections with our friends, or even create new ones.

Furthermore, the network is where we manage our real world relationships - we schedule when to meet, exchanging information about last night’s party, and gossiping about others. Facebook and Instagram - for example - are virtual places that we use to share what happens in the real world, outside the computer. We’re in a party, we take a “real” picture, then we use the virtual world to share it with others - so they know how much fun we have in real life.

From that point of view, the Internet does not create a new identity for us, but it is a tool that raises awareness; awareness to the fact that we are all more complex than what one could guess. We consist of a variety of characters, passions, virtues - complexity that is easily missed when we meet a person in real life. That is because of our stereotypes, our profiling of others, our lack of patience to get to know a stranger. Many a times, we would tell people that just met us: “You don’t really know me”. What we mean is “I’m much more than you can see now...”

But the Internet - with photo and status sharing, helps us show our many sides in a variant way. For example by sharing a Facebook/Twitter status, we can represent our thoughts, interests or criticism about life.

A couple is meeting for a blind date in the real world. The two of them examine each other’s body and face, the style of his clothes, the body language, her smell, his voice. They would converse for two hours on ten different topics, he notices what drink she just ordered, she is looking at his back and bum when he walks to the toilet... The conversation continues into topics, which are not necessarily what each of them or both would rather speak about, for better or worse.

Alternatively, if that same couple is meeting online for the first time, the two sides could - within five minutes - see how the other side chose to represent himself in different situations in his life. For example by checking her facebook profile, or his Instagram feed, reading the statuses he shared, who are their friends, where does she hang out, what’s her favorite bands. Well, it is definitely a one-direction representation, but from many aspects it’s much more fair than what’s going on in the real-life blind date, because it does not dependent on his/her ability to speak, on their confidence in first meetings, on the specific atmosphere of the bar, or on the actual mood each of them came into the meeting.

Having said that, many people do not treat the virtual identity as a reliable representation of the real identity. The other side has carefully chosen which pictures to share and which to hide, which text and likes to have to bold specific sides of his character.

For our generation, the online date is considered less romantic. But this is only because we were raised with a very specific kind of romanticism. The old tales we grew up on do not consist of Kings’ treasure hiding in PayPal accounts, or of Princes that use GPS to reach their Princesses in order to save them from the evil witch.

So does the Internet help us meet new people, or does it harm the authenticity of the meeting?

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