Online Dating — Brave New World Or Future Fail?

The archetype of the sad sack single internet computer geek may soon have to be retired. A new study from the American Sociological Association found that people with internet access at home were more likely to be in relationships than those without.

And, it turns out, it’s likely that many of these relationships were found online. As online dating sites continue to flourish (and get weirdly specific), more and more singles are finding their soulmates online. Said Michael J. Rosenfeld, an associate professor of sociology at Stanford University and the lead author of the study:

“With the meteoric rise of the Internet as a way couples have met in the past few years, and the concomitant recent decline in the central role of friends, it is possible that in the next several years the Internet could eclipse friends as the most influential way Americans meet their romantic partners, displacing friends out of the top position for the first time since the early 1940s.”

We’ve all seen the commercials — one in five couples now meets online. It’s clear that it’s a good thing for these new couples, but is it a good thing for romance?

There are certainly no guarantees with love, and online dating certainly has made it easier to date. But it’s also mechanized the dating process. Now complete strangers can meet online, go on an intimate date, and then — just as quickly — become strangers again. As “Salon” writer Mary Elizabeth Williams posits, “With online dating, it’s almost too easy to be both the shopper and the goods.” Call it the “tyranny of choice,” she writes in another piece on the subject. If you try one brand of paper towels and they’re just OK, you can always buy another brand, after all. And online dating operates in eerily the same way. It’s people making a targeted, concerted effort to find a mate. A good idea in theory — it’s good to go after what you want, after all — but a slightly cold and sterile method of finding love.

In the end, Williams agrees:

“What if we had a way of finding people who share our interests and like our pictures, so we could be out dancing instead of sitting at home lonely? And what if, along with all the practicality and purposefulness and monthly fees the Internet brings, it turns out we still hope, in our hearts, for something approaching magic?”

After all, no amount of AIM chats, emails or perusals of Flickr accounts can tell you if you’re actually going to click with someone. And no number of shared interests on a digital page mirrors the sheer joy and thrill of finding someone you want to call your own.

What do you think: has online dating helped or hurt romance?