Double Click: Romance and Commitment Among Online Couples
Author: Andrea J. Baker
Publisher: Cresskill, NJ: Hampton Press, 2005
Review Published: February 2009
First, I'd like to thank M. Carmen Gomez-Galisteo for her thorough review of my book. Here, from the author's point of view, I will expand on points she made about the benefits of comparing different types of sites where people meet online and the issue of honesty versus deception on the internet. Then I describe a few directions for future research about close online relationships.
Gomez-Galisteo details some of the strengths of the research including the multi-site location of the couples' first online encounters. Studies of dating sites add much to the literature on online dating, and yet they leave out what Kate (Yael) McKenna (2007) has called the more "naturalistic" process of meeting in other online groups such as games, chats and discussion boards. In these groups, people have often established norms of conduct, known identities, and written histories by interacting with others in the setting for purposes outside of dating. In the book (p. 34), I provide a chart contrasting several facets of meeting online in the two types of sites, the dating services and the other online groups, such as reasons people decide to connect and how they express their attraction to each other. For those interested, in a later article, I explored at length how type of meeting place online and geographical distance between partners affects length of time before meeting offline, and the implications for those relationships (Baker, 2008).
To add to Gomez-Galisteo's thoughts about honesty and deception, as she noted, I maintain in the book that the many of the 89 couples (or 178 individuals) I studied in my online relationships project practiced what I call "hyperhonesty," taking off from Walther's seminal concept of "hyperpersonal" (1996) interaction. This careful and complete form of self-revelation compensated, according to the members of the couples, for the lack of physical cues. At the same time, the couples' communication through online media allowed them to focus upon the words exchanged, without distraction. Evidence for hyperhonesty other than Walther's experimental work includes Joinson's supporting conclusions (2001) that the internet encourages more self-disclosure than face-to-face communication, and Hancock's results (see, for example, 2004) that show that email contains fewer lies than either phone or in-person communication. An important consideration is whether or not people who meet online desire serious or committed relationships, even if they start as friends, or want more casual conversations and interactions. The goal of the interactions will likely influence the level of honesty in online relationships or the openness of the (S)elf-presentation in my POST model outlined in the Gomez-Galisteo review, and thus, affect the degree of success of the online relationship.
Finally, for future study of online relationships, researchers may want to consider designing longitudinal projects to follow couples who met online for the duration of their relationships, and creating those that compare offline to online relationships among demographically similar people. As a sociologist, I've emphasized online and offline settings and situations, and would suggest that researchers look further at the social networking sites such as MySpace and Facebook (see Ellison et al., 2007) to see how friendships and romantic connections there are initiated or continued online. In my newer work with online music fan communities, I have continued to find that relationships among people of all ages can start or develop among those with common interests, either from people who meet first in an online group or alternatively, offline, at gatherings of fans. An enduring question with much room for scholarly inquiry is "How are relationships that start on the internet different from and similar to relationships that start offline?" According to the concluding words of the review above, as "a most useful study for those researching cyber relationships," my book Double Click may provide a base upon which to move forward.
Baker, A. J. (2008). Down the rabbit hole: The role of place in the initiation and development of online relationships. In Barak, A. (Ed.), Psychological Aspects of Cyberspace: Theory, Research, Applications. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 163-184.
Ellison, N. Steinfield, C. & Lampe, C. (2007). The benefits of Facebook "friends": Exploring the relationship between college students' use of online social networks and social capital. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication 12 (3).
Hancock, J.T., Thom-Santelli, J., & Ritchie, T. (2004). Deception and design: The impact of communication technologies on lying behavior. Proceedings, Conference on Computer Human Interaction, 6, 130-136. New York, ACM.
Joinson, A. N. (2001). Self-disclosure in computer-mediated communication: The role of self-awareness and visual anonymity. European Journal of Social Psychology, 31(2), 177-192.
McKenna, K. Y. (2007). A progressive affair: Online dating to real world mating. In Whitty, M., Baker, A., & Inman, J. (Eds.), Online Matchmaking. Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave MacMillan, pp. 112-124.
Walther, J. B. (1996). Computer-mediated communication: Impersonal, interpersonal and hyperpersonal Interaction. Communication Research, 23, 3-43.
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