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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

Online Matchmaking, edited by Monica T. Whitty, Andrea J. Baker, and James A. Inman, contains fourteen chapters written by various contributors, divided into five themes. On first viewing, the book appears very concise with short chapters accompanied by bibliographies making it easy to read. In her introduction, Whitty outlines the content of each of the five themes, the chapter content, and differing academic disciplines for the reader, clearly noting the format and structure of the work. The individual chapters themselves are succinct, but -- due to some thematic constraints -- can read as a little repetitive in both content and supporting bibliographic material as will be revealed later in this review. I will explore the content by discussing my first impressions of the book as a whole, and then briefly describing and commenting on the chapters.

I must admit that I was looking forward to reading this work, as it loosely overlaps in areas of my own research and I have followed the approaches of some of the contributors over the past few years with outright admiration. Consequently, I was surprised at being a little disappointed in the repetitious nature of the bibliographies and citations, and the lack of situating the work within a truly multi-disciplinary or interdisciplinary context. The limiting nature of the themes gives the impression that the work as a whole was constructed within what I would describe in this age of rapidly changing new media as a very narrow "bandwidth" of subject cover, despite claims of being "approached from a number of different disciplines" (ix). It is understandable that there is only so much that can be included in an edited work of this nature, but I felt that more citations would have contributed and expanded some of the work (especially if it were contextualised and defined within the research "field" of Cyberpsychology and Cyberculture, for example). Several chapters, including those by Albright and Spitzberg & Cupach, contained results of studies such as surveys, interviews and similar quantitative and qualitative research. The studies were conducted both online and offline in order to make some interesting comparative discussions that would have been more valuable if situated and expanded within, say, a virtual ethnographic context. As a consequence of this, the work provided little scope for inviting further research into the subject of online matchmaking unless it is defined within the academic constraints. Much could have been gained from introducing other interdisciplinary research in the form of Social Networking Theory (Castells 1996; Law and Haasard 1999; Chayko 2002), Participation Culture (Jenkins, 2006), New Media Audiences (Livingstone 2004), and Critical Cyberculture Studies (Silver and Massanari 2006).

In Part One, Defining Online Matchmaking, three authors set the scene by discussing their approaches to online romance, cybersex, and relationship advice. Danielle Nicole DeVoss, in her chapter "From BBS to the Web: Tracing the Spaces of Online Romance," explores profiles at a "specific digital site" (19), and this is contrasted by Robin Hamman's contribution "Cyborgasms: Ten Years On and Not Enough Learned." He revisits his well known early work from 1996 (Cyborgasms) and makes some comparative comments how after ten years "the development of new features offered by websites has changed some aspects of the typical format of cybersex" (36). Hamman suggests part of these changes come with the advent of social networking sites such as Myspace and Facebook, and also from the popularity of "text sex" using mobile phones (37). In her chapter "Scripting the Rules for Mars and Venus: Advice Literature and Online Dating," Susanna Paasonen focuses on self help literature that are primarily targeted at a female readership particularly for women over thirty. Paasonen finds the approach to women's romance online differentiated to the physical "cultural capital" of cliches concerning pornography and erotica (48). Paasonen finds the approach to women's romance online differentiated from the physical "cultural capital" of cliches concerning pornography and erotica for men, and questions hetero-cybersex as "one basically communicates with a fantasy character, an interpretation that is also a projection" (48).

Part Two, Presentations of the Self to Attract Lovers, features three chapters. In Whitty's chapter, "The Art of Selling One's Self on an Online Dating Site: The BAR Approach," relationships online are described as developed through increments of trust (58). She argues that "online daters disclose information about themselves in a very different way to other spaces online" (59). By making comparisons with personal ads and video dating as a precursor to online dating, Whitty situates a descriptive and comparative approach to various quantitative and qualitative studies and provides examples of face-to-face interviews surrounding online dating and relationship studies. Whitty concludes that the self online needs to "be a balance between an 'attractive' self and a 'real' self" (68), which she titles "BAR" theory. However, I would suggest that objective approaches towards notions of attractiveness could be difficult to pin down or define.

Alice Horning in her chapter "Examining Personal Ads and Job Ads" expands upon Whitty's chapter and explores "the rhetorical principles used and abused by writers of online personals and employment ads, and helps account for both success and failure to connect in love and work" (70). This is done according to Horning by using the Aristotelian principles of truth-value -- ethos, pathos and logos. However, this chapter does not appear to consider the software for job ads and dating nor does it address platform constraints for online delivery in that they can also contain similar formats and standards. In "How do I Love Thee and Thee and Thee: Self-presentation, Deception, and Multiple Relationships Online," Julie Albright is inspired by the story of Colonel Saleh who had simultaneously been wooing up to fifty women online. This chapter contains interesting evidence from users who feel that they have been cheated or are themselves cheating online because of the result of "hyperintimacy" and selective self-representation.

Katelyn McKenna and Andrea Baker contribute chapters to Part Three, Online Dating Progression to Face-to-face: Success or Failure? In her chapter "Expressing Emotion in Text: Email Communication of Online Couples," Baker describes "how people communicated their feelings of affection towards each other and about other emotions they expressed during their online writings before and after meeting offline" (97). Baker asserts more obviously that "the email and chat transmitted during the relationship allow examination of people actually communicating with each other" (98). However, Baker claims that exploratory results of her study of online couples revealed a "hyperhonest" form of communication (99), which could have been explored further with reference to Joinson and disinhibition (1998; 1999). More interestingly though is Baker's suggestion that how respondents handle technical problems "can signal how successfully they can pursue their relationships" (104). This would confirm my suspicions of how users relate to software and platform constraints as already mentioned above regarding Horning. In "A Progressive Affair: Online Dating to Real World Mating," McKenna describes a "strangers on the Internet" phenomenon that may allow users to "join groups and explore aspects of self" (114) that they may not do otherwise. McKenna makes some interesting comments on issues such as "first impressions" offline and "control interactions" online. She also draws some novel comparisons between delayed responses on the Internet and the immediacy of telephone conversations that could be explored further (116).

Part Four, The Darker Sides of Online Matchmaking, contains two chapters that appear to have very similar conclusions. In "Cyberstalking as (Mis)matchmaking," Brian Spitzberg and William Cupach specifically emphasise "cyberstalking as one variant that is particularly likely in the online matchmaking environment," and elaborate on "the interrelationship of impression management theory, socio-evolutionary theory and relational goal pursuit theory" (127). They argue that online matchmaking "may facilitate the formation of apparent, relative to actual, compatibility" (127). This sounds remarkably similar to Whitty's BAR theory. They then detail cyberstalking motives, discuss issues of "Internet addiction," and complete a statistical review of cyberstalking tactics. They conclude that "it is perhaps inevitable that as the use of online matchmaking increases, the likelihood of cyberstalking victimisation will also increase" (141). On the other hand, in "Cyber-victimisation and Online Dating," Robert Jerin and Beverly Dolinsky contrast cyber-victimisation with cyberstalking, discuss the perceived risk, and review safety precautions. In conclusion, Jerin and Dolinsky state that during their 2001 research they "found that the greater the experience a woman has using an Internet dating service, the more likely she is to be cyberstalked" (153).

Part Five, Online Dating Sub-groups, begins with Robin Mathy's chapter, "Sexual Orientation Moderates Online Sexual Activities," which discusses "relationships between online sexual activities, sexual orientation, and sexual activities in physical space" (159), and explores the probability that sexual activities are moderated by sexual orientation. The chapter forwards the hypothesis that "sexual activities antedating Internet usage are associated with online sexual activities" (164). In conclusion, Mathy altruistically suggests that we will "transcend previous concepts and limitations of what it means to be sexed, gendered, or classified based on the sex or gender of those we love" (175-176). In "Whips and Chains? Fact or Fiction? Content Analysis of Sadomasochism in Internet Personal Advertisements," Diane Kholos Wysocki and Jennifer Thalken discuss a content analysis study of "adult personal advertisements of those who have placed ads for others to share their interest in sadomasochism on the Internet" (181). This chapter is by far the most explicit in its descriptions of sexual practices and includes "cock binding" and "fist fucking" (189). In conclusion, Wysocki and Thalken blandly assert that their "content analysis of advertisements on an S & M web site found that people used it for many different reasons" (193).

Overall, Online Matchmaking attempts to theoretically explain some simple tenets concerning online and offline relationships. However, in doing so, there is a danger that some content and sources appear repetitious in places. Despite this, it could prove invaluable as a citation source for all those interested in statistics and online studies of Cybersociology, Relationship Counseling, and Cyberpsychology. Consideration should, however, be given to the book's lack of discussion surrounding delivery platforms and design of online matchmaking software and its impact on users. Whitty finally concludes the book stating:
The authors here suggest that cyberspace promises to offer more ways and opportunities for individuals to initiate and engage in online relationships and sex. Moreover in the future individuals will become more skilled and savvy at developing relationships and engaging in sexual activities in this space. (200)
This may be the case, but I suggest that as technologies of entertainment and communication converge, we will see new developments through the explosion of consumer created content. The notion that "everyone is a publisher and everyone is a broadcaster" (McConnell, 2006, p. 71) will reveal innovative and creative use of new technological products. This shift from what I describe as the "analogue broadcasting paradigm" to the "digital netcasting paradigm" confirms earlier predictions of the customisation of new technologies for specific activities and content by its users (McLuhan 1967). For example, the explosion of Second Life has unwittingly created a three dimensional participant oriented "virtual matchmaking" environment for its users. I argue that this paradigm shift will be even further enhanced when the convergence of all forms of broadcast and communications media are migrated onto the digital and broadband network -- as is currently in progress in the UK.

As a consequence of this, we may see a rise in what has already been described by New York Times' John Markoff as Web 3.0, a new wave of mobile participation oriented, user-generated, three dimensional, intelligent platforms which will be ripe for entrepreneurs to succeed with new creative ideas, new forms of entertainment, production, consumption, and edutainment, and of course that will inevitably include the creation of many, many more ways to find and interact with a lover.

Castells, M. (1996). The Rise of the Networked Society. Blackwell: Oxford.

Chayko, M. (2002). Connecting: How We Form Social Bonds and Communities in the Internet Age. New York University Press: New York.

Jenkins, H. (2006). Fans Bloggers and Gamers: Exploring Participatory Culture. New York University Press: New York.

Joinson, A. N. (1998). "Causes and Implications of Disinhibition on the Internet." In Gackenbach, J. (Ed) The Psychology of the Internet. Academic Press: New York.

Joinson, A. N. (1999). "Anonymity, disinhibition and social desirability on the Internet." Behaviour Research Methods, Instruments and Computers, 31, 433-438.

Law, J. and Hassard, J. (1999) Actor Network Theory and After. Blackwell Publishers: Oxford.

Livingstone, S. (2004). "The Challenge of Changing Audiences: Or, What is the Audience Researcher to do in the Age of the Internet?" European Journal of Communication, Vol 19 (1) 75-86.

McConnell, Ben. (2006) Citizen Marketers: When People Are the Message. Chicago, IL, USA: Dearborn Trade, A Kaplan Professional Company.

McLuhan, Marshall and Quentin Fiore. (1967) The Medium Is the Massage. New York: Touchstone.

Silver, D. and Massanari, A. (2006). (Eds) Critical Cyberculture Studies. New York University Press: New York.

Trudy Barber:
Dr. Trudy Barber is a Senior Lecturer in Media at the School of Creative Arts, Film and Media at the University of Portsmouth UK. Trudy's Fine Art degree at Central Saint Martins College of Art in London culminated in her creating one of the earliest immersive Virtual Reality installations with a sexual theme in conjunction with a computer media production company called "Virtual S" in 1992. She went on to complete her PhD in Sociology and Cultural Studies at the University of Kent at Canterbury. Her thesis, Computer Fetishism and Sexual Futurology: Exposing the Impact of Arousal on Technologies of Cyberspace, covers various socio-sexual aspects of the Internet, Virtual Reality, and New Media.  <Trudy.Barber@port.ac.uk>

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