Leave it to a New Yorker cartoon to prod our thinking into reality, fantasy, and the online world of communication.
In this cartoon a terrier is having a conversation with another canine and says: “The thing I like about the Internet is that, online, no one knows you’re a dog.”
Wait for it.
Reality and the Web
Murray Gordon, who has merged the worlds of psychology, philosophy, and computer science in his academic and professional careers, tells us what most of us already know about how the Internet stacks up against what we normally know as reality. BTW, the latter is a fuzzy concept at times, no?
“I have found … that there is a recurrent theme which spontaneously arises concerning the body and mind when people begin reflecting on their experiences in the online world,” Murray writes. “In the everyday world, we can see each other, and make judgements and evaluations of others, consciously or unconsciously, based on their physical appearance.
” What sex are they? What clothes are worn? Neat or messy? Young or old? Am I attracted to her or him? Do I appear attractive to him or her? But online these usual evaluations and judgments are turned on their head. One young woman tells me that what she really likes about internet chat rooms Is that ‘online, you can be whomever you want to be.’”
I have discovered this to be true myself. In my single years I ventured into the world of online dating and actually found Ms. Right waiting there for me. We’ve been married 11 years now, so the experience can definitely work.
However, as most online daters have found, the search is not always an easy one. Sometimes finding your soulmate is more like navigating a maze rather than following a clearly marked trail.
A year before meeting my wife Anne, I struck up an online relationship with a nice woman, half a continent away. Our online conversations seemed to bring out the best of us both as writers. Since our “relationship” was totally text based for several weeks, that was important, plus the fact we could make each other laugh pretty easily. Everything seemed to be clicking. We were both journalists and our love of words and well-turned phrases flourished in our exchanges.
You’ve Got Mail
It was like the scenes in You’ve Got Mail when Joe and Kathleen couldn’t wait to get home to their respective computers to read the other’s e-mail. And when two people who have never met can feel that way, fantasy must be playing a role in those expectations.
Finally, we faced the moment of decision that all online daters face: whether to risk what was a pretty satisfying fantasy, made up of daily online exchanges, to meet face to face and see whether fantasy matched reality. So I hopped on a plane and she met me at her airport.
Within the first five minutes I knew it was a mistake.
The fantasy-sinker was the non-verbals ,which aren’t part of the online experience. She laughed too hard and too quickly at things I said; sometimes even before I said them. The way she physically moved seemed out of synch with the way I thought she would. Something about the eye contact wasn’t quite right. Then there was something else: she just didn’t smell right. I was back on the plane the next morning, headed home alone.
Reminds you of the nitpicking way Seinfeld evaluated his endless parade of dates, right? Maybe so, but all these nonverbals were real to me. And about the smell — what’s up with that? Not as strange as you might think, and I actually have some backup for that assertion. In addition to some recent studies done on how a person can actually sniff out a similar or opposite DNA, there is the following from Psychology Today:
“Psychologists Rachel Herz and Estelle Campenni were just getting to know each other, swapping stories about their lives over coffee, when Campenni confided something unexpected: She was living proof, she said, of love at first smell.
“‘I knew I would marry my husband the minute I smelled him,’ she told Herz. ‘I’ve always been into smell, but this was different; he really smelled good to me. His scent made me feel safe and at the same time turned on—and I’m talking about his real body smell, not cologne or soap. I’d never felt like that from a man’s smell before. We’ve been married for eight years now and have three kids, and his smell is always very sexy to me.”
And about that DNA sniffing? From Discovery Fit & Health, there is word of this study:
“In several studies, researchers have had women smell men’s used T-shirts and rank them according to how attractive the smell is. In the past, women have indicated that the most pleasurable shirts belong to men with different major histocompatibility complex (MHC) genes than they do, so scientists believe that women can subconsciously smell a man’s genes. MHC genes, which affect the immune system, have been determined to play a role in everything from sexual attraction to marital happiness.”
When’s the last time you smelled anything or anyone on the Web?
A test will follow
OK, I agree this is starting to sound weird, but my points remain:
1. Fantasy is alive and well in communication exchanges happening in the virtual world.
2. While fantasies provide a welcome escape from a harsh reality at times, they also provide a weak foundation for relationships that must enter — at some point — the world of reality.
3. Nonverbal communication often is the litmus test to measure whether fantasy matches reality for two people considering a relationship together.
And don’t forget the question inherent in that New Yorker cartoon: How do you know the person on the other end is really human at all?