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Online Matchmaking

Editor: Monica T. Whitty, Andrea J. Baker, James A. Inman
Publisher: New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2007
Review Published: April 2008

 REVIEW 1: Trudy Barber
 AUTHOR RESPONSE: Andrea J. Baker

First, many thanks to Trudy Barber for her thorough look at our book Online Matchmaking. Of the twelve chapters written by researchers especially for the book along with the introductory and concluding chapters, she critiques all of them, discussing strengths and weaknesses of each piece in order of its appearance in the volume. While I appreciate the reviewer's comments, I'd like to suggest that the readings represent perhaps a wider view of the topic of intimate online relationships than noted in the review. This response is a summary of the methodologies and the contents of Online Matchmaking from one co-editor's point of view. It goes onto delineate how the book has advanced the field of romantic and sexual relationships on the internet, concluding with a note on technology, and suggestions for future research.

The five sections in this book have provided the reader with theory and data on online relationships and intimate interactions. Briefly, and thus, selectively, the chapters move from first describing the history of spaces for online romantic encounters, and popular advice given to individuals within the realm of online matchmaking to observing how people present themselves online to potential partners. They continue with how partners move forward to explore the relationship through online communication and how the process of relationship development in cyberspace differs from offline. Later chapters delineate how people can become victimized in cyberspace, and finally, identify the online goals of those from variant sexual subgroups.

Authors come from different disciplines and employ a wide range of methods, some noted by the reviewer. While perhaps not as strong in humanities as in the social sciences, the book draws from authors grounded in the fields of psychology, sociology, communications, writing and rhetoric, linguistics, law, digital culture, and journalism. The authors use content analysis, either qualitative or quantitative, to look at advice books on online dating, personal profiles online, and email between dating online couples. They are ethnographers, participant observers of online realms of dating online, noting processes in initiating one-to-one cybersex or in contacting people with interest in components of the S and M domain. There are surveys, with in-depth interviews on self-portrayal online, and questionnaires about people's knowledge of deceit of online correspondents. Statistics from large surveys provide data on numbers of people who have experienced online stalking, and connect self-reported sexual orientations to frequencies of online behaviors.

Although none of the researchers report directly from new experimental research, one paper (see McKenna) references her own experiments with self-presentation, and others in this volume use both Adam Joinson's (2001) and Joe Walther's (1996) experimentation with online communication as a base for their own research and thought.

In a very early venue for writings about the internet, Computer-Mediated Communication (1994-1999), Brittney Chenault (1998) wrote a seminal article about "personal and emotional" relationships through CMC. In her conclusion, she outlined assumptions to overcome and areas to develop when looking at interpersonal bonding in cyberspace. She mentioned four points: (1) a "paucity" or absence of real data, (2) the idea that online interaction is not real in comparison to the offline or face-to-face type, (3) a need to know more about online relationships in "special populations," and (4) about how people using CMC move past uncertainty to gaining enough trust to have friendships and other close relationships online. Our book of readings addresses all those concerns.

Certainly today we have much more data on online relationships, including a number of full-length works devoted solely to people who meet online for romance, sex, and relationships (see Baker, 2005; Ben Ze'ev, 2004; Whitty & Carr, 2006). There are journals established for researchers to publish within the topics of electronic communication, cyberpsychology and technology and society. The Association of Internet Researchers, established in 2000, annually presents findings about internet research from various disciplines, including papers addressing romantic relationships in cyberspace.

The twelve papers here add much to our database of information and conceptual framing of dimensions of online matchmaking and relating, from cultural ideas about love and sexuality (Paasonen, Hamman) to constructing and placing ads online (Horning, Whitty) and to selecting potentially compatible others with data about how those choices are made. Those choices are influenced and nurtured through knowledge provided from people placing the profile (Mathy, Wysocki and Thalke) or through self-presentations they have made elsewhere online (McKenna), and by their manner of expressing emotions through online writing (Baker). In finding partners for relationships or more casual encounters, most people online wish to avoid deception (Albright) and danger (Jerin and Doliinsky), and also suitors who might follow them once rejected (Spitzberg and Cupach).

The role of technology in online interactions and within interpersonal relationships is indeed an important strand of inquiry. Dr. Barber has pointed to chapters in Online Matchmaking that help to explain how technology affects social and psychological processes. Her comments suggest that the reverse can occur, that people experimenting in places such as Second Life will independently influence technological development and design. My own current work with an online community of rock fans suggests that members are influenced by a change of software platforms and also employ, if not create, visual and auditory media to supplement their textual exchanges.

Certainly, as we progress through the internet age, more researchers continue to grapple with technological aspects of interaction (see, for example, Blanchard & Markus, 2004) while forming close relationships online (Romm and Stetzekorn, forthcoming) beyond the initial comparisons of synchronous and asynchronous media, and of the telephone with email, for example. With those issues we also need much more study of the relations between the offline and online worlds and how people bridge the two, how they negotiate within and between these spaces.

Our book already has inroads into those two areas, and to others described above and by Dr. Barber, within the rapidly expanding field of Internet Studies. I concur with our reviewer that the collection of articles in Online Matchmaking serves as a worthy resource for those interested in the areas she identifies of cybersociology, relationship counseling and cyberpsychology, especially for those studying close relationships online.

References:

Baker, A. (2005). Double Click: Romance and commitment among online couples. Cresskill, NJ: Hampton Press.

Ben Ze'ev. A. (2004). Love online: Emotions on the internet. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.

Blanchard, A. & M.L. Markus. (2004). The experienced "sense" of a virtual community: Characteristics and processes. ACM SIGMIS Database Archive, 35(1), 65-79.

Chenault, B. (1998, May). Developing personal and emotional relationships via computer-mediated communication. CMC Magazine [On-line].

Joinson, A. (2001). Self-disclosure in computer-mediated communication: The role of self-awareness and visual anonymity. European Journal of Social Psychology, 31(2), 177-192.

Romm, C. & K. Setzekorn. (Eds.). (forthcoming). Social networking communities and e-dating services: Concepts and implications. Hershey, PA: IGI Publishing.

Walther, J. (1996). Computer-mediated communication: Impersonal, interpersonal and hyperpersonal interaction. Communication Research, 23, 3-43.

Whitty, M. & A. Carr. (2006). Cyberspace romance: The psychology of online relationships. Hampshire, UK: Palgrave MacMillan.

Andrea J. Baker

<bakera@ohiou.edu>

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