Tom Standage, The Economist's digital editor, has brought my attention to Wired Love by Ella Cheever Thayer, a book about “A Romance of Dots and Dashes”.
Tom first mentioned Wired Love in his own book, The Victorian Internet (oft covered on this tumblog). Most recently, though, he pointed me via Twitter to Clive Thompson’s review of this “tale of catfishing, OK Cupid, and sexting…from 1880”.
From Clive’s coverage:
It’s all quite nuttily modern. Wired Love anticipates everything we live with in today’s online, Iphoned courtship: Assessing whether someone you’ve met online is what they say they are; the misunderstandings of tone and substance that come from communicating in rapid-fire, conversational bursts of text; or even the fact that you might not really be sure of the gender/nationality/species of the person you’re flirting with.
As it turns out, Nattie quickly figures out that “C” is, indeed, a man. But the conversations she and her friends have about her online courtship are utterly wild to read: They have the arch elocutions of Victorian-era America, mixed with concepts that are so thoroughly modern that book feels like it was written this year, by someone merely emulating the language of 1880.
I continue Clive’s theme in the iLove chapter of Untangling the Web: What the Internet is Doing to You:
It may seem ironic that a cold, logical computer has become an important mediator for the most warm and fuzzy of human emotions, but mediated love isn’t a new thing. Elizabeth Barrett Browning fell in love with her future husband Robert via letter between 1845-1846, and the telegraph ushered in its fair share of love affairs around the time that our modern concept of romance first emerged. Tom Standage describes the first “online” wedding between a bride in Boston and a groom in New York in 1848 in The Victorian Internet: “At the appointed hour [the bride] was at the other end of the wire in the Boston telegraph office and, with the telegraph operators relaying their words to and fro in Morse code, the two were duly wed by the magistrate.” Terribly romantic, no?
Almost 150 years later the first web-based marriage took place between Andy (from Somerset, England) and Lisa (from Palm Beach, Florida). The pair had been introduced by a mutual virtual friend in a chatroom on Saturday 25th May 2006. “It was after only a week of chatting on-line that I asked Lisa to come over to visit me in England,” says Andy. It worked. Lisa moved to the UK in July, and the pair were engaged within a week. Four months later, they were married: the bride and groom were in a cyber cafe in Taunton in Somerset in England, and the officiant, the Reverend Mike Bugal, was sitting at his computer in Seattle, Washington in the USA. Another Reverend was due to bless the marriage from his computer in Lyndhurst, England at 8pm, but a broken cable wiped out all of Taunton’s telecommunications at exactly that time delaying events: “More frantic phone calls with BT eventually managed to sector a standard telephone link with the Internet,” explains the couple’s homepage. “After over two hours of waiting, the blessing could finally re-commence.”
The congregation, logged into the #cyberwedding chatroom from all corners of the globe, watched and read as <RevMike> typed, “Will you take Andrew (^Cloud9) to be your wedded husband? Will you love, comfort, honour and respect him?” and as Lisa responded, “I will.”
Despite the technological hiccups that caused <RevMike>’s internet connection to repeatedly log him out of the IRC chat in the middle of the proceedings, the two promised to “share all life has to offer both on-line and IRL (in real life)” together, and were congratulated by the hundreds of people who attended the celebration, and who they knew from the web but had never meet in the flesh before.
But later, I propose that something *is* different about online love:
The web is making the happy accident obsolete.
In a 2009 report for the world’s biggest online dating conglomerate, Match.com, Professor Whitty and her research team found that more than half of women and 43% of men have become fussier about who they date. This is a trend, they say, that’s increasing year on year. And the OII’s research has found that people have become more “instrumentally focused…increasingly considering the practice of finding a mate as a distinct and intentional activity with its own sets of contexts and conventions, rather than something that ‘just happens’ as one goes about other activities.”
The dating market has indeed become a market.
Read more of the online love research I cover in the book elsewhere on this blog, and the whole chapter in the book!