Thursday, July 18, 2013

My Life Online: Baby Steps



My friend Karen is a hoot and a half.

We first made each other’s acquaintance in 2011 when I was the editor in chief of USU’s student newspaper. Karen sent me a sternly-worded email expressing her displeasure with a photograph we had chosen to publish in connection with a fundraiser held by her boyfriend’s frat.

The image, which featured a young woman with her legs around the waist of a young man fist-pumping in time to whatever sick jams the hired DJ was spitting, was deemed by some in the Greek community as an intentional, calculated maneuver to discredit the image of these fine, upstanding, campus leaders due to my personal prejudices against fraternal and sororital groups.

In actuality, the photo was selected because it was indicative of the event – a dance party – and was one of the more tasteful images we had gathered during the evening. As for my personal bias, I only had ill feelings toward a single house on USU’s Greek Row, which was not the fraternity in question.

I did my best to explain this to Karen and the issue was mostly settled, as today’s newspapers are tomorrow’s birdcage liners. But for the remainder of the semester Karen I stayed in sporadic contact; she letting me know about upcoming news from the Greeks and I using her insight into an area of campus life foreign to me as a makeshift focus group.

In the years since, Karen and I have often debated politics, philosophy, religion, pop culture and any other myriad number of subjects. I value her opinion and insight immensely, and in fact she has been kind enough to read through an early draft of my novel to provide feedback (a labor of love, I assure you).

And yet, Karen and I have never spoken face to face.

We ran in different scenes in college and, after graduation, I scooted off to an internship in New York City while she headed to Wisconsin to be a librarian. Thanks to the wonderful world of Facebook in which we know live, we may as well be neighbors.

Karen isn’t the only example in my life of a relationship that is primarily digital. Among my 600-odd Facebook friends are many who began as acquaintances but, one “like” and comment at a time, have become indispensable members of my social circle.

For example, in 2010 I spent a week in Georgia at a conference for college newspaper editors. There were a few dozen of us, pulled from schools all over the country, and we spent our days immersed in the study of our shared profession and our nights bar-hopping around Athens.

It was one of the most memorable weeks of my life, and though I effectively haven’t seen any of my colleagues since, we nonetheless keep in touch and come together in an online forum from time to time online to discuss the changing state of our industry.

In today’s world, you can go months, even years, without exchanging so much as a sentence with a particular human being, but with one mouse click Facebook notifies you that “John Doe likes your post,” and you know that connection remains.

Most people, I imagine, have experienced this as most people are now on one form of social media or another. That is why it’s so hard for me to understand the stigma that continues to hang over online dating, since the central concept is the same. If a friendship can be built and maintained online then why not love?

It’s also what makes the constant failure of online dating so frustrating, as most of my attempts at a conversation are either never answered or flame out over the space of two to three days.

But the obvious difference is time. It took two years of slow, incremental progress for Karen and I to become bona-fide friends, whereas most of the articles I’ve read on online dating (and my own experience) suggest that after you “meet” your eJuliet you need to suggest a meeting IRL relatively quickly before they lose interest and move on to the next hazel-eyed brunette with a college degree who enjoys folk music, Thai food and embroidery.

Case in point, Melanie, who I was obliged to friend on Facebook after receiving the following message:
So I have an interesting story for you! It’s an epic story with twists and a surprise ending!
This past weekend, a girl I know passed away. This morning, I wanted to find out more details about the accident, so I went to [a website I contribute to] and guess who was the author of the article?! :)
Here’s the part where it takes a turn.
First off, great article! I also really enjoyed your blog [ed note: Uh-oh] and flipping through your FB pictures! You never mentioned that you are in a band! [ed note: I wouldn’t exactly call One Wood Uke a “band”] These are the kind of facts you wanna broadcast if you’re really trying to impress a girl!
Now, it’s generally understood that everyone Facebook stalks each other. I mean, real talk, that’s what the website is for. But still, acknowledging it flat-out seems like a breach of social protocol, especially when it affects what I can write on my blog.

But it’s mostly a moot point. After accepting my friend request I didn’t bother continuing our conversation on OkCupid, plus I was out of town with limited internet capability. When I returned to society I had the following message from Melanie in my FB inbox:

“So what’s the deal? We become friends on Facebook and stop talking?”

Apparently, yes. But who knows, in two years we could be thick as thieves.

In other news, I’m beginning to think the initial excitement of Tinder is wearing off, leaving only the sad a depressed or the sexual predators as users. My two most recent “matches” include a woman named Kyra whose tagline says “I’m looking for a one night stand” and Lisa, who mere seconds after matching with me initiated the following conversation:

Lisa: Hi! Have we chatted before? 24/female here…you??

Me: Don’t think so. 26.

Lisa: I’m sorry…I get to be forgetful at times!! How’re u??

Me: No worries. I’m good. How are you?

Lisa: Just got out of the shower…..crazy week been working a lot! But I’m feeling naughty!! So what’s up….wanna have some fun?? ;)

Lisa: I want a guy that can make me [explicit sexual phrase] Have you ever made a chick [use your imagination]?? Hahaa

Me: Can’t say I have

Lisa: Gonna change my clothes…..wanna see? :)

Lisa: Want to play on webcam?

Me: I don’t have a webcam

If you’re wondering why I was still responding at that point, it was for academic purposes, natch, I am a blogger after all.

Lisa then proceeded to send me the url for a webcam website where, if I filled in my credit card information, I would be able to enjoy a nice conversation with her about the Socratic method and Plato’s analogy of the cave. She assured me the credit card was just to verify that I was an adult and that I wouldn’t be charged a dime.

Which basically brings us to the present after a mostly non-eventful month. My niche online dating service (hint: it’s not DatingWithHerpes) continues to be an abysmal failure, and to make matters worse I’ve reached the end of my 6-month prepaid period, meaning I know get a nice monthly withdrawal from my checking account to be rejected by women.

If I’m learning anything, it’s that free dating sites offer services as good, if not superior, to paid sites. That may not be true for higher-profile entities like eHarmony or Match.com which, if the commercials are to be believed, employ an army of statisticians to painstakingly introduce you to the next love of your life.

What’s more disheartening about my niche online site (hint: it’s not EquestrianCupid ) is that of my 4 services it’s the one I’m failing the most at. I’ve so far stuck to my quota of initiating at least one conversation a week but am sad to say the last time I received a response was June 4.

I’ve updated my profile, I’ve added pictures, but the scientific method would suggest I’m a lost cause. Unbeknownst to me, there must be something about my smile, the way I style my hair, or the way I answered the 6 things I can’t live without that is a secret female code word for “deranged sociopath.”

As the mutants on table 9 and I have come to realize throughout our lives, we simply have nothing to offer the opposite sex.

Or, maybe it’s just that I’m a writer.

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