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Sunday, May 19, 2024

Does the digital age predict the imminent dehumanization of relationships?: The Internet Explorer








garcia_opHi, my name is Jazmin García, and I am excited to say that I am one of The California Aggie’s fall quarter columnists. Given that I’m a psychology and an English double major, my train of thought sometimes tends toward the psychoanalytic and existential. My column, which will deal with such ideas, will explore the omnipresence of digital technology and its ever-evolving role in our social paradigm. It sounds like a hefty subject, but these thoughts stem from my immediate environment, which includes media outlets and pop culture. From reading Orwell to watching Avengers: Age of Ultron, I find myself faced with the question of our fate at the hands of evolving technology.

The digital revolution has altered social conventions. However, I must emphasize that this only gives part of the truth. Advancements in technology do not necessarily disturb or improve something as abstract and macroscopic as “Society.” This quarter, my goal is to minimize these misconceptions and offer a variety of lenses through which we can consider our digitalized world. Otherwise, this column will look at how the ever-expanding realm of social media influences our relationships with others and society, as well as our many identities.

The first volume of this saga discusses this terrifying thing known as online dating.

Yes, the term is dated, and, at least in my mind, triggers this image of some middle-aged person behind a desktop computer with an equally archaic computer mouse in their hand. Online dating carries a sort of stigma that dismisses it as a desperate measure or a superficial approach to developing an intimate relationship. But before we can say that social media dehumanizes relationships, we have to first identify an authentic or natural quality in them. For instance, a relationship mostly grounded on face-to-face interaction rivals an online relationship in the sense that the former is more physically intimate and that the latter has at least one degree of separation between them, like a mobile device or a computer. The variable in question, then, is proximity, which drives a distinction between the online persona and the ‘offline’ persona. You can think of the ‘degree of separation’ as being a barrier behind which you can conceal yourself. People usually take the liberty of fashioning themselves a different persona, with more exciting hobbies and slightly altered heights and weights. While a participant’s potential obscurity is part of the stigma ascribed to online dating, critics further accuse the medium of substituting a human being for a computer.

However, we can just as easily argue that the internet actually provides a bridge for communication through e-mail and social networking sites. Dr. David Ellis, a sociologist at Lincoln University in England, has spoken out against the stigma attached to the online component of these relationships.

“If people become more superficial it is not because of online dating,” Ellis said in “Digital Dating,” a documentary on the subject. “What people’s standards are might have changed and what the expectations are might have changed.”

Ellis additionally notes that, like media advertisements, online dating attempts to sell people a solution to a problem that might not actually be a problem. Dating websites have the best interest in convincing people that not being able to find a mate is a concern to them. This sort of propaganda simply reiterates the idea that finding a romantic partner in modern society is challenging. But the main selling point here is that the resources available for meeting people have evolved. Dr. Ellis has essentially addressed the stigmatized notion that online relationships are superficial, opting instead to defend the ‘online’ component that is often misconstrued as being destructive in relationships.

In a similar way, I concede that the online persona projects the offline person’s wants and needs. In this sense, comparing an ‘online’ persona with the ‘offline’ persona is meaningless. When we compare the online and offline personas, we are not talking about two classes of people, but rather, behaviors, like those that root themselves in the id (the needs) and the ego (the wants). On that same note, the Internet is an outlet with the online persona as the mediator and the offline persona as the seat of desires.

To say that the Internet dehumanizes relationships with other people and obstructs the future of society misunderstands the the principle of social media, and the Internet in general, to forge connections between human beings.

While online dating can prove to be a double-edged sword in terms of establishing and maintaining romantic relationships, the negatives are not owed to the ‘online’ component. Similarly, the successes of online dating do not see couples praising the invention of the Internet. Again, the Internet merely functions as a medium through which people can meet and interact — whether couples like, respect and communicate properly with each other will be determined by the people behind the screens and how they regulate their own ‘online’ and ‘offline’ dimensions.

You can reach Jazmin García at msjgarcia@ucdavis.edu



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