CULTURE/IDENTITY IN CYBERSPACE
IDENTITY WITHIN ONLINE DATING SETTINGS
Text Version of CCT260 Essay
By Iman Mohammed
Submitted: Thursday November 16, 2007
IDENTITY WITHIN ONLINE DATING SETTINGS
In text-based online communications we are nothing until we type at the keyboard and others do not know us unless we tell them something. In the process of narrating to others who we are and what we do, the digital self begins to take shape (Zhao 397)
Identity is a concept that forms two mental images. One is identity as a structured and bounded package that represents an individual. Second is identity as a fluid, tangible construction of self by an individual. In relations to identity on the web the second mental image prevails. The web is a limitless space where people can and have experimented with identities different than their real world identities (Simpson 120). So, how can one trust any interaction with individuals online? How about personal interactions and the search for a life partner? Can a person be trusted to display a completely truthful representation of who he/she is? Otherwise, are there ways to gain impressions of people online similar to the real world? This essay examines the structure of the website Arablounge (www.arablounge.com), an online dating network that promises to “connect Arabs worldwide”. The examination of the structure of the website will be used to determine the process of identity formation in dating sites and how the process relates and differs from offline dating. In comparison to offline dating, online dating goes through similar steps of building trust, managing impression and relying on cues.
To begin with, real world dating starts with meeting someone. The union occurs through friends or at a place a person frequents. Therefore it begins at a trusted known environment like a local bar a person regularly visits or workplace. This trust enables a person to be more open and communicative of personal information. Similarly, the main page of the website Arablounge is set to create a feeling of exclusivity and trust to the visitor. The member login at the top right hand corner of the page communicates to the visitor that membership is the only way to receive information on other members and the only way to give information on ones’ self. Therefore creating a form of security on members’ personal information. Also, two elements found on the main page of the website create two different forms of trust between the visitor and the website. These two elements are found at the bottom panel of the website one says “It really works” and a picture of a bride and groom and the other says “5 star safety program” with a little blurb on the sites commitment on providing a “safe and friendly environment”. These two elements included by the website developers are essential in telling the visitor that this site is a serious and monitored website where personal information is kept exclusive to members of the website. This promise increases the chance of a visitor joining the website and possibly providing real information on their identity. Therefore turning this website into a trusted environment for the visitor like the regularly visited local bar.
Furthermore, managing impressions is a type of filter individuals’ utilize in various social interactions. The level of filtering of impressions differs based on the situation. In dating interactions the level of filtering a person sets up usually is based on their prediction of the other person’s interests. “Self-presentation strategies are especially important during relationship initiation, as others will use this information to decide whether to pursue a relationship”(Ellison 417). Therefore, on a first date the level of impression sifting will be the highest in the hopes of getting a second date. In other words, managing impressions functions as a form of identity tweaking. Likewise, on the website Arablounge a potential member goes through a series of questioning. It starts of with three mandatory questioning sections called “personal info” e.g. Screen name, email address etc, “At first glance” where a person provides basic information about themselves, “About my Match” where a person provides a form of outline on ideal partner. Following these three sections are two optional sections “My Photo” and “Detailed questions” a section where a person answers questions like “Describe the perfect evening or weekend?” and “When raising a family, how important is it for you that your kids be raised to speak Arabic?”. The first three sections demonstrate the rudiments of a first date when two people initially meet and the exchange greetings through close-ended questions. Afterwards the last two sections are where impression management takes place. Adding a photo to a profile is like showing up to a date wearing a dress and heels vs. showing up to a date wearing jeans and a sweater. The last section with the detailed questions allows the highest level of impression management because they provide open-ended and selective responses. Although the first three sections are close-ended they still allow a person to make adjustments. “Many people describe themselves the way they want [to be] . . . their ideal selves. For example, individuals might identify themselves as active in various activities (e.g., hiking, surfing)” (Ellison 426). These adjustments might seem as “minor” white lies but all the little details in a profile patch up to create an image to any interested members. Therefore, if a person sets up their own profile with pieces of attuned details that do not match reality a false image forms on an interested member’s mind, creating a false identity.
Finally, non-verbal cues are a form of unwitting identity representation. Non-verbal cues vary based on social settings. In this case, during a date if a person keeps looking up at the ceiling it can be interpreted as boredom by the other person. Also, others can use non-verbal cues to formulate aspects of a person’s identity through observation of that person’s behavior (Lee 19). For example, during a date the male/female might notice that their date is an anxious person if he/she keeps moving a leg up and down. Similarly, online there is a reliance on cues. However, online they are all verbal cues. “During initial interactions between online dating participants stylistic aspects of messages, such as timing, length, and grammar appear equally as important as the content of the message”(Ellison 431). Therefore, messages exchanged between online dating participants function as dialogue. So, misspelled words in profiles or in messages can be interpreted as lack of interest or education (Ellison 424). Also, adding picture to profile is a cue for interest and concern for representation of identity. For this reason, Arablounge’s profile ranking in the profile search prioritizes profiles with pictures. So, the more pictures in a profile the sooner a profile appears on the search pages.
In Conclusion, online dating websites set a trustworthy environment unavailable in other online social networking settings like public chat rooms. The online dating network Arablounge sets up a series of questions that need to be answered in order to proceed to create a profile. However, the structure does not guarantee that people will answer accurately. As a result, members use cues found through the structure of the content on member’s profiles to develop conceptions of the identity of individuals.
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