Online Communication: Linking Technology, Identity, and Culture

By Andrew F. Wood; Matthew J. Smith | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 4
RELATING ONLINE

Those strangers, who had no arms to put around my shoulders, no eyes to weep with mine, nevertheless saw me through. As neighbors do.

—John Perry Barlow

One night, while checking my email, an advertisement bar for Match.com caught my attention. I went to the site and signed up for a free trial membership. I never expected to meet the person I'd spend the rest of my life with. Maurice was busy restoring his recently purchased home and, as a result, had no time to meet quality singles using more “traditional” methods. The bar/club scene was not his style. There was something about Maurice's profile that caught my attention. Something about him seemed familiar. We exchanged a few emails then had a telephone conversation to set a date to meet. Our first date was phenomenal. After eating at a Thai restaurant, we walked around the little town where I lived and then down to the beach. We sat on the beach and talked for hours. We casually dated for five months until one fateful trip to New Orleans to celebrate Halloween, my favorite holiday. It was during this trip we realized how compatible we really were. We have been inseparable ever since. Maurice proposed one evening in December 2001 on the Marin Headlands, overlooking the San Francisco city lights and the illuminated Golden Gate Bridge with the stars twinkling above. It couldn't have been more perfect or more romantic. (Match.com, 2003)

As in this testimonial posted on Match.com, one of the Internet's leading dating services, some of you might also know the story of someone who has initiated a personal relationship over the Internet. Others may well have struck up a friendship or experimented with some romantic relating of your own with someone you have never physically encountered. The distance-transcending technologies of the electronic age have enabled people like the author and Maurice to initiate, escalate, and maintain interpersonal relationships to degrees that were once considered possible only when two parties shared common physical space.

Whether or not CMC can be an effective context for building relationships has been an issue of contention among scholars since the formal study of networked interaction began. Early research concluded that computer usage focused people on more task-oriented messages and precluded the development of social relationships among users. However, a growing body of literature argues not only that people use networked technologies for social purposes but also that, in some cases, people prefer the medium for interpersonal relating. Albert Bressand, a respected French economist, has even said that systems we presently refer to as information technologies are more aptly named relationship technologies: “The new machines of today are between man

-78-

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Online Communication: Linking Technology, Identity, and Culture
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page *
  • Brief Contents vi
  • Detailed Contents vii
  • Preface xiv
  • Part I - The Internet as Social Technology 1
  • Chapter 1 - Using Technology to Communicate in New Ways 3
  • References *
  • Chapter 2 - Understanding How New Communication Technologies Work 29
  • References *
  • Part II - The Self Among Others 49
  • References *
  • Chapter 3 - Forming Online Identities 51
  • References *
  • Chapter 4 - Relating Online 78
  • References *
  • Chapter 5 - Seeking Therapy Online 101
  • References *
  • Chapter 6 - Communicating in Virtual Communities 122
  • References 142
  • Part III - Internet Culture and Critique 145
  • References *
  • Chapter 7 - Rebuilding Corporations Online 147
  • References *
  • Chapter 8 - Accessing the Machine 166
  • References *
  • Chapter 9 - Carving Alternative Spaces 179
  • References *
  • Chapter 10 - Pop Culture and Online Expression 194
  • References *
  • Appendix A - Introduction to Hypertext Markup Language 213
  • Appendix B - Researching the Internet Experience 222
  • References 226
  • Glossary 227
  • Author Index 235
  • Subject Index 240
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