I was perusing Gizmodo, my all-time favorite gadget blog, today (looking for some more news on the imminent demise of unlimited wireless data plans on Verizon, if you must know) when I came across this interesting reaction piece in response to this equally interesting tell-all blog post.
I’ll summarize the story for you: boy meets girl online, girl dates boys roommate, then dates boy. Relationship ends (with both boy and his roommate). Then, girl writes a tell-all blog post about her experience, blaming the failure of the relationship on the boy. While the names were changed, when the boy read it, he was disturbed by the frank revelations of their relationship, and affected by her previously unvoiced feelings. The boy also disagreed with some of the details in the girl’s account. All in all, pretty classic stuff, and the girl-dating-both-roommates love triangle was juice right out of a trashy sitcom.
The boy’s name was Sam Biddle and the girl’s name was Vann Alexandra Daly. Sam is no stranger to attention, both on the internet and in real life (IRL) — as one of the editors of Gizmodo, he gets invited to news and tech shows as a guest commenter all the time, and is the constant target of anonymous internet ridicule. Alexandra, a fact-checker for the Wall Street Journal, probably gets her fair share of attention as well, and judging by her blogging, is going for more. Of course, had Sam not written his own reaction piece on Gizmodo and linked to Alexandra’s, the boy probably would have remained anonymous forever, and nobody would have read Alexandra’s bog post in the first place. (And I never would have learned who “Vann Alexandra Daly” is). But by sharing their story, both parties knew what they were getting into.
Sam’s point, in his own words, was that “OK Cupid (and the rest of the bunch) abstract the human element away from love and sex […] and they make it easier to hurt someone, because, truthfully, you never cared that much to begin with.” And Alexandra concludes, “You really don’t know what ultimately drives people to join dating sites and the kinds of people you’re going to meet.” Both conclusions put their authors pretty squarely into stereotypical boxes – that of the guy being under-emotional, and the girl being over-emotional. But in the end, both bloggers showed that they cared enough to write about their experiences and share their conclusions with their respective audiences.
However, both bloggers were also sharing an amusing antecedent of an awkward love triangle dragged onto a larger stage by the magic powers of the internet. And the fact that I’m discussing their failed relationship now, on this dusty little corner of a blog, is further proof of the world stage that ordinary people armed only with a web browser can take.
Of course, gossiping about the failure of a relationship is nothing new. But the internet creates a forum for gossip like never before. Really juicy stories go viral, and people’s lives are ruined. Of course, in this story, all parties involved will probably continue on with their mildly successful but generally obscure lives unmolested; and Alexandra Daly’s revelation of the details of her failed relationships, and Sam Biddle’s identification of himself as a player in her story, won’t ever make headlines. But sometimes they do. 2010 saw the publication of Karen F. Owen’s Official Duke F*ck List, a similar tell-all, nothing-but-gossip story that ended up in front of too many bored, hungry eyes. Karen F. Own may make out ok, if she can weather the storm and hire a good agent (book and movie deals poured in) but the 13 guys on her list are going to be haunted for the rest of their lives, every time a date or potential employer googles their name.
I’m always talking about my belief that the internet is a great equalizer – that ubiquitous, instantaneous communication and access to information is the greatest weapon against tyranny and inequity. For example, I firmly believe that the Holocaust could never happen again in a first world country, due entirely to the power of the internet. But every great new gift to society must come at some price. Socrates, for example, was a great opponent of the written word, feeling that it was a crutch instead of a tool. Sam, also, seems to feel that people use online dating to make the act of dating less personal and therefore less hurtful.
So, were Sam (and Socrates) right? Is the internet used as a crutch, preventing people from being forced to develop social skills and real human emotions? And does reliance on written information put a stranglehold on the ability of an intellectual to grasp a concept and form a cogent argument?
Or instead, does the internet, just like the written word, allow an unprecedented level of access to an ever-expanding population, who otherwise would not have had any of the opportunities that they have now? What about those individuals who simply aren’t able to force themselves into “normal” human interaction, because of a handicap? And for the rest of us, can online dating be compared to browsing a bookstore before purchasing a book – whereas, before online dating, your only options were the books/potential mates that your parents and friends already knew about? Of course, a book doesn’t feel pain and loss when it is passed over in favor of another, newer edition. Do we, in this new age of endless options, have to change how we react to loss?
In the end, perhaps we must accept that the more opportunities for success and gain that we are given, the more risk for loss we take on.