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  • The Digital Love
    19 Dec 2006

    Ben's palms have been sweating for the past thirty minutes despite the cool air blowing out of the air conditioning of the bookstore. He is wearing a red shirt, just as what was agreed upon. His eyes strain to scrutinize each and every person wearing green within a twenty feet radius but still managed to glance at a few interesting books chanced upon ever few minutes or so. The half hour was starting to feel like an eternity's wait.

    Then, a break.

    A nondescript girl in green approaches him. Could it be her? Couldn't possibly be. Ben has another image in mind, one that he had forged over months of chatting with somebody he had never actually seen in real life.

    He waits for the girl in green to pass by and thinks to himself, this is going to be great. If ever, this might even be the start of something more than friendship.

    But the girl isn't going nowhere. The girl instead stops in front of him and says, "Are you Ben? Hi, I'm Alissa."

    Ben doesn's reply. He's too dumbfounded. The girl looks too different albeit real, she looks less like Alissa and more like who she really is - a stranger.

    Five minutes into the meeting reality starts to crumble. Ben can't think of anything except how different she is from how he had visualized her online. A few minutes more and he finds himself excusing himself from the meet-up and running back into his house - to his room - to his computer, which has unwittingly given him the lie of a lifetime.

    The proverbial Cupid's arrow never disintegrates before it's even reached its target. Destruction by contact with reality.

    The Information Superhighway has produced yet another roadkilled heart.

    And it's a very very busy intersection.

    Digital love it seems, is still elusive now more than ever. Why does this happen? Why does it fail? Here's my take on this so called digital love:

    The concept of a mutual relationship fails when a person falls in love with an idea rather than the real person behind it.

    And you can thank the mass media for that.

    In a culture where we are constantly bombarded with worship of ideals rather than actual personality, our bar of standards drifts unusually above the realistic median.

    We base our ideal partners of make-believe characters that are most often outrageously far-fetched from real life. We formulate our principles on fictional circumstances that rarely happens outside fiction - warm, supple first kisses in the middle of a carless road on a rainy sunday night, averted partings on a busy airport filled with cheering onlookers, prince charming, sleeping beatuy and the whole caboodle. It does happen, but most often, to others and not us. In essence, we replace our pragmatic learning with that of digital knowledge.

    We digitize love, life - the whole package. In bits and bytes. Mixed with other information ranging from fact to fiction. And in doing so, we forfeit our ability to stay in line with reality.

    In the early 1990's there was a study conducted regarding the prolonged usage of the then pioneering technology of virtual headseats and hand feedback apparatuses that allowed one to "enter" a virtual dimension. While the project was largely successful in inducing naturalistic behavior in response to artificial stimuli, there was a noticeable side-effect on the users.

    After each session, the users had a very difficult time accepting natural stimuli again. Their hand-eye coordination became horribly inaccurate and it took them a long time to fully adjust again. This phenomena is called virtual shock. And it seems, this shock is not limited to just hand-eye coordination.

    Oftentimes, people who go looking for love in the internet dislodge the our heart-mind-senses coordination. Instead of the mind relying on the senses to register information about an object, it starts filling up through subconcious Id/Super Id rationalization whatever gaps we find in the person we meet online. When the senses fail, our imagination takes over what vacuum of logic that's left vacant.

    The internet leaves too much a vacuum for our emotions and imagination to run wild. It serves as a virtual high that needs no drugs to attain, enabling us to see what we want to see, to become who we want to become, to meet the person of our dreams even if inside another dream.

    But that's not really the main problem. In itself, there really isn't any problem in finding relationships online. The whole internet dating game looks good as a concept and looks even better on written paper. As a matter of fact it's convenient. You get to bond with somebody without having to actually spend time physically together.

    The problem mainly lies on our desire to drag something from the realm of the farce to reality. They just don't line up, because our imagination can never control what reality has in store for us. We get the virtual shock of the heart.

    And for so long as that discrepancy is there, there will always be problems with bringing online relationships to real life.

    But that's not to say that cupid doesnt surf the net.

    People do fall in love online and yes, Ive known more than a handful who've reached the happily ever after status, somtimes even outlasting real-life fairytale stories. Why and how do matches happen in the net despite everything that I have said?

    I think the key to a successful transition lies in three things:

    - Keeping expectations low.
    - Honesty about as many things as possible.
    - The human capacity to adapt to change.

    To quote a dialogue from the movie Shakespeare In Love,

    Stage cast: It's gonna be ok.
    Shakespeare: How is it gonna be ok?
    Stage cast: I dont know. It's a mystery.

    It could work. The numbers may not be on your side, but it could work.

    So if you'll excuse me, I still have to check my mail.

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