A few years ago anyone who told their friends they were using an online dating service, or that they had met someone through a social networking site such as friendster, may very well have faced laughter, warnings about personal safety, questions about how one could be sure that the person they met online wasn’t a 14 year old geek, whether your date lived up to expectations, etc.
Nowadays everyone seems to be openly discussing online dating and I’m actually starting to be surprised when I encounter couples who didn’t meet online. In fact, some, including BBC News Online, reckon there is a "surprisingly high" success rate for couples that met online but maybe that success doesn’t always come easy – Amazon.co.uk currently lists 37 how to books about online dating.
Capitalising upon the online dating industry are Online Personals Watch , a sort of industry insider report site, and iDate 2005, a conference series making stops in Hong Kong, San Francisco, Prague, and Miami.
I once worked at a wireless start-up company where one of the services I was involved with was anonymous SMS chat. The most popular of our various rooms was, by far, the "on the pull" room. Just about anyone with a GSM phone has, at one time or another, flirted with someone via text message. Recent research by Ruth Byrne and Bruce Findlay in Australia looks at whether gender affects users preference to initiate romantic contact via SMS in comparison to by voice call.
Then there was "toothing", one of those social activities that thousands of journalists write about but no one seems to actually have seen for themselves. In fact, Steve Curran, who dubbed the term, may very well have made it all up and duped the media at the same time. Dating via 3G mobile services, which offer streamed video calls (as well as other downloadable media rich services), also seems likely to be a non-starter.
The other day I came across a blog entry by Alexander Paine in which he describes "flirting via iTunes".
Then there’s the other side of the coin – paedophiles are increasingly utilising digital networks to find children to abuse, as was seen in a recent UK court case.
In addition to the usual journalist and student interest, I probably get one or two emails a month from people who have discovered that their partner is having cybersex with someone else. Usually they ask if they should consider it cheating although sometimes it’s the cheating party who comes asking if it’s "normal". [Note: I’m not a counselling service but there are plenty of articles about cybersex infedelity that, more often then not, maralise about this type of thing.]
Of course, if you do find out that your partner is cheating on you online, via xbox live, iTunes or whatever, you might want to move to Malaysia where it’s possible to divorce someone (well, for a man to dump his wife anyway) via text message.