Is the internet a blessing for modern relationships?

Has the internet distracted us from commitment and scared us with catfishing? Or, is it helping to provide us with our happy ever after?

During my final semester of university I’ve been studying a module entitled ‘The Digital Society’, which has been a fascinating departure from my usual political studies and has led me to think about everyday aspects of my life that I take for granted. Out of all the required reading for the module, the article that I found most interesting happened to be the first one I read, Netflix and Ch-Ch-Chilly, written by Rex Sorgatz. What struck me most about the article was the perception of relationships that the boys living in Napolean, ND had. They appreciated growing up in a small town because of the strong, tight-knit community, however they seemed to garner this appreciation from hearing of the experience of friends who lived in large cities. Therefore, the ability to communicate freely and easily with people across the country, and the world, gave the boys a deeper appreciation of the close relationships formed within their immediate community.

Although living in a digital world has infinite implications, and has changed almost every aspect of life, this post will focus on the effect the internet has on relationships, as it is this topic that has played on my mind most over the past few months. This is because of both the Sorgatz article, and because of how my own personal relationships have changed because of the internet this year.


Self-Reflection

Studying ‘the digital society’ for the last few months has changed the way I view my place in the digital world, and has really highlighted to me how the internet effects my life and in particular my relationships, both with other people and with myself. Soon after beginning the digital society module I was contacted on LinkedIn by an employer, and after a number of interviews, I was offered a graduate job. This opportunity is probably the most significant event that has happened to me solely because of the existence of the internet and social media. Had I not created a profile on LinkedIn, and had the internet not have been present, I would never have heard of the position or the company and would never have formed this new working relationship. Studying the digital society module has given me a new perspective on events such as this, which happen so often but I take for granted. This biggest challenge of studying the module has been the stark reminder of just how dependent I, and society in general, is on the internet now.

For example, a slightly less profound challenge of the module has been attending the taught sessions every week with the knowledge that all the information from the sessions is accessible online, particularly in the weeks close to dissertation deadline day. Although you cannot put a value on learning in a classroom surrounded by peers, the option of easily accessing information online from home in your own time is always tempting, and is an option I have been guilty of choosing at least once this semester, especially when facing multiple deadlines in the same week. Therefore, the module has highlighted to me how personally dependent I am on technology, and topics such as ‘Internet of Things’ and ‘Smart Cities’ have demonstrated to me how much more dependent myself and society will be on technology in the future.

The module has also led me to the conclusion that it is impossible to state whether the current digital society that exists is solely positive or negative. There are aspects of living in a digital society that are incredible — for me personally: getting a job through social media, the ‘Find my Friends’ app (because of situations like this), and the excitement of new technology, such as that experienced at DigiLab. However, the digital society has several negative factors as well — there is more personal data than ever before collected about us, systems that depend on the internet can be compromised (just look at the NHS), and being constantly connected can have a serious effect on health. All in all, the module has raised my awareness of how important technology is in society now, and that its presence will only spread across more areas of life in the future. For now though, I personally feel comfortable in the digital world; I love being able to FaceTime my family whenever I want, shop for clothes from the comfort of my sofa, and decide that it’s time to share my relationship on social media. Also, as someone who has grown up through the growth of the digital society, I believe I’m equipped with the right knowledge to secure myself online, and studying the digital society module has helped me to further understand the society we live in today.

Are modern relationships doomed?

As I mentioned in my reflection, sharing a picture of my boyfriend and I together on Instagram was perceived as a significant step in our relationship, and unsurprisingly (to me at least), I am not alone in my experiences of social media affecting my relationship. There are countless articles and videos across the web discussing the negative effects of social media and the internet on relationships, with some questioning how the internet increases the ease of committing infidelity, and others on how Facebook use can affect closeness in relationships.

‘Is Love an app? Mobile Lovers by Banksy’ by Duncan Hull via Flickr (Creative Commons 2.0)

Those in established relationships are not the only ones who could have their romance negatively affected by the internet. Whether dating online or in real life, the presence of the internet and social media has implications for dating and meeting new people. If beginning the dating process online, the difficulty of transitioning an online relationship into the real world can be an issue. It may be a simple case of chemistry just not translating from emojis into real conversation, but more worryingly, it could be that the person you were talking to doesn’t actually exist. It is common for photographs used on online dating profiles to not provide a completely accurate image of how the person actually looks in the present day. However, this is just the tip of the iceberg when studying online identities.

Catfishing: “ The phenomenon of internet predators that fabricate online identities and entire social circles to trick people into emotional/romantic relationships (over a long period of time).”

In 2016, Which? reported that over half of online dating app and website users believed they’d seen a fake profile, whilst in 2017 the Victoria Derbyshire programme reported that the number of people defrauded in the by online dating scams hit a record high in 2016. 44 year-old Anna Rowe launched a petition to criminalise the practice of catfishing last year after discovering that the man she had been dating for over a year, whom she met online, was married and regularly luring new women into dating him. This is just one example of the numerous occurrences of catfishing, which is so prevalent that an entire MTV show is dedicated to uncovering stories of catfishing. The figures and examples above demonstrate the serious implications that the internet has had on dating, with criminals exploiting the naivety of single people online.


When the internet is a blessing, rather than a bad thing

A couple holding hands, phone out of sight. (CC0)

Despite the negative effects technology can have on relationships, living in a digital society can also be a blessing for those either in love, or searching for it. The internet has given us the ability to communicate instantly from across the globe, which is good news for those in long distance relationships.

Furthermore, the internet can be beneficial for those who are LGBT, providing those in the community, who may need it, with support. 50% of LGBT youth reported having at least one close online friend, compared to only 19% of non-LGBT youth, and findings also show LGBT youths find more support from peers online, and were likely to speak to other LGBT youths online to support them in coming out to family and friends. Therefore, although technology may be hindering relationships in some ways, the internet provides crucial access to support systems for minorities.

Furthermore, psychologists at Chicago University reported in 2013 that marriages between couples who met online had a greater chance of success than marriages between couples who met offline. This suggests that when online dating goes well and both parties are fully committed, websites could be able to match individuals better than they could match themselves in traditional relationships.

The internet can be a difficult place to navigate successfully at the best of times, however combining a search for romance or an already established relationship with it can be a recipe for disaster. However, it is clear that for some, love would not have been found without the internet, and, as it is in many areas of our lives, is depended on by so many to stay connected. There may be implications to living in a digital society, but the positive effects that the internet has had on relationships outweigh the benefits for me.

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