Anonymity

When I was a teenager I predicted the importance of identity and anonymity to the internet. The Internet were a dark brooding guitar band from a small village in the middle of nowhere. Identity was a new wave solo artist that was influenced by David Bowie and 17th century Parisian fashion. Anonymity was a hip-hop duo that mixed voodoo beats with disconnected samples. They were imaginary bands that I created in the days P.I. (Pre-Internet) for my parallel Top 40 that I would dream up when I was bored (which as anyone from P.I. days will remember was a condition that happened quite a lot).

Image Credit - Flickr Nationaal Archief

Image Credit – Flickr
Nationaal Archief

 

The point I am trying to make is that I always had a flexible approach to identity. In English classes I wrote essays in a voice that did not sound like me at all. An authentic voice was something that creative artists constructed if they wanted to win the Nobel prize for literature. Dropping and mixing identity was something that I enjoyed doing. It was a form of play for me and I still use it as a lens to view the world, even if it is only in the naming of a blog as Information Agent. It gives me a freedom to say things that I might never explore. Some of us just prefer that sort of communication to the more instant face-to-face method.

This ability to create identity and set different levels of anonymity is part of what makes the internet such an interesting space. Few principles cause as much polarisation as privacy. If there will ever be a Cyber civil war, you can be sure that the flags of privacy and anonymity will be flapping about there in the middle of the conflict.  How people interpret and define the level of online anonymity that they are comfortable with seems to mark them out in much the same way as Nationalism did at the turn of the 20th century. Like Nationalism, people use it for setting boundaries and limits and it can be used in a variety of ways.

Image Credit - Flickr National Archives of Australia

Image Credit – Flickr
National Archives of Australia

Like myself,  I know plenty of students who came out of second level education without great social skills. Online collaboration allowed us to blossom.  Before I took to Twitter seriously I chanced my arm as an online neolithic stone mason in the Boyne Valley. This was a collaborative project with another archaeology student. At one level we wanted to explore what it was like to put ourselves in the shoes of a person from the past, but I think a lot of it was just messing around with online characters. I also had a Tumblr account that was curated by an Edwardian Gentleman Explorer.  Nor is it all about fun and games. I use anonymous forums when I need information that gets too close to my own personal boundaries.  They allow me to explore my own uncomfortability in a safe way.  In parts of the world where it can be hazardous to speak freely, online anonymity allows people to  fight censorship and spread word of human rights violations. Real life undercover agents (whether they are military or anti-criminal) are able to protect their anonymity to ensure that they cannot be tracked. All good stuff.

However, whenever there is a way of expressing yourself without impunity, there can be trouble. Online anonymity is perfect for attacking others. You can say what you want and not have to take responsibility for it. Just look at the comments section of online newspapers. There is something about this freedom which turns the guy next door into a troll who thrives on rising arguments to nuclear level. Researchers have found that online anonymity definitely effects how people comment online. Just last night my daughter received a scary message from an anonymous profile called “Chucky” on one of her game website profiles which was warning her not to go to sleep at night. Luckily we knew that this was her cousin trying to wind her up and she will receive a lecture in return when I get home from work.

Image Credit - Flickr

Image Credit – Flickr

People want their online privacy, for all kinds of reasons. I have friends who refuse to have anything to do with social media. Growing up in small towns makes you highly sensitive to other people knowing your business. It can feel like a sort of control. Some people don’t like the idea of commercial companies using their personal information. Some just want their privacy, not because they have anything to hide, but because they feel it is their right.  All it takes is for one group to figure out how to use your information against you and you are in trouble. This is what happened to the Dutch jews when the Germans arrived and found a perfectly good archive system in place which identified each person by religious persuasion. That was the end of their freedom.

When money is involved, there is just as much at stake. I trade my own personal information in return for access to Google’s index. I am willing to do that, but not everybody is. My online behaviour is measured and scrutinised as if I were a lab mouse. Apparently, companies can learn a lot by running a few mice through mazes a couple of million times a day in return for an information hit. All I know is that this somehow allows Ryanair to put up the price of a flight after I have researched it. In this case, my personal information is tracked and connected to personal identifiers and I lose out because of it.

Image Credit - Flickr Smithsonian Institute

Image Credit – Flickr
Smithsonian Institute

Some people have a healthy dislike of that sort of carry-on. When Janet Vertasi learned that she was pregnant, she did not want marketers targetting her with their products. This behaviour was considered so unusual that the NSA were alerted about her attempts to evade tracking. When I was studying Information in university, one of my fellow students felt so strongly about his personal privacy that he used TOR, the same channel that Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden used to leak classified information.  This is a Virtual Private Network which was created by the military to help undercover agents and whistleblowers avoid capture. Although it is now funded by the EFF and it uses voluntary servers to encrypt identity instead of information, even this may not allow real anonymity. The NSA have already hacked TOR once and many of the sites on the dark web that it accesses are supposed to be honeypots for catching criminal and malicious activity.

Image Credit - Flickr National Media Museum

Image Credit – Flickr
National Media Museum

On the whole I give privacy and anonymity a bit of thought. I try to be conscious of what I share online. I grew up P.I. but my kids have a different experience. They have their own Youtube channels. I try to teach them that it is unusual to be permanently in front of an audience and that this can effect how they behave. It is a highly filtered (created, edited and amplified) experience and can be as unreal as an imaginary rock band. As someone once said on Twitter, anonymity is no longer a way to hide who you are, it is now a way to be who you are.

 

Notes

University of Houston. “Researcher finds anonymity makes a difference with online comments.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 22 January 2014. .

 

Information Pride

When I got off the bus for this years libcamp 2014 in July, the sun was shining and the Pride parade was about to kick off in the streets. This set the tone for my second unconference.
When I did my undergrad in Information Studies, it was impressed upon us from the start about the broad scope of being an Information Professional. One week we were learning about the science of information retrieval and the next we were discussing the psychology of colour design and typography. I returned to study with a vague notion of becoming a librarian and left university wondering what exactly a librarian was. These days I work in Digital Marketing where I spend a lot of time discussing/arguing with my manager about the principles that I learned as an information student. I don’t worry so much about what a librarian is anymore, but it was good to get back to talking about information access without worrying about how to sell stuff.

Lucky Elephant

Image Credit – National Library of Ireland
Flickr

Unlike irelibcamp2013, I got to roam around all the pitches so I got more of a flavour of them this time. For those who have not had the experience of an unconference yet, a pitch is a chance to kickstart a discussion about anything of interest. They are informal and I really enjoy them because I get to listen to concepts and experiences that are often quite different to my own and they keep me connected to librarianship. Unconferences are ideal for covering a lot of different subjects and they have a really nice energy as the food is crowdsourced, the networking is casual and the learning is continuous.

I got to listen to Betty Maguire explore the concepts of access and intellectual freedom through the use of copyright. Jen O’ Neill led a pitch about employment, job-hunting techniques and non-traditional roles which brought up the thorny subject of internships. Laura Rooney Ferris expanded on the non-traditional roles and professionalism by leading a discussion on embedded librarianship while Marta Bustillo from DRI used the concept of  collaboration as one possible solution to some of those problems. Philip Cohen from DIT asked why we should join the Library Association of Ireland and he received a flipboard full of post-its with different answers. Ann  O’ Sullivan and Erin O’ Mahoney got me thinking about what sort of filters and feeds that I use to organise information for retrieval and avoid overload.

Always on the outside, looking in

Always on the outside, looking in

The reason I was roaming was because I was going to do a pitch myself about social media. There is a lot of fear and confusion around social media use out there. Some of it is warranted but a lot of it is unnecessary. I have seen social media guides and policies that are so rigid and dogmatic that they strike fear into the hearts of interns and send CEOs looking for lawyers. A lot of that confusion can be cleared up by putting people in a room and letting them knock heads together. I think that I learned more than anyone else there from actually doing this pitch and from conversations with people during the libcamp who shared their own experiences with me. That is what I really like about unconferences.

Cast in a Koreshan Unity play in Estero, Florida

Information Professionals with a unified and consistent voice
Image Credit – Florida Memory/Flickr

 

For my pitch I split the participants into groups, gave them a random institution and got them working together on language, tone, ethos and character.  This allowed them to generate a “textual moodboard” (thanks to a participant who coined that phrase for me) that they could all buy into and take ownership of. Then I asked them to create a positive interaction on an appropriate social platform and a response to a negative interaction. Ideally this should be done for every platform that a company or institution uses and it should be used as a guide for every new employee that logs on for your company or institution.

Four boys riding goats, ca. 1918

Social media can feel strange at first, but you will soon get the hang of it
Image Credit – State Library Queensland/Flickr


I was happy that each group managed to achieve their objective and I particularly enjoyed the personas that they created for their institutions (A grown-up Matilda for the National Library of Ireland, The Gruffalo for Macnas and Edward Snowden for Open Knowledge Ireland were a few of my favourites), but to be honest, I knew that they would be well able for the challenge.
Looking forward to Libcamp15!

Wait..what? Everything I know about digital marketing I learned in theatre?

I have been immersing myself in digital marketing lately (mostly content creation for social media, blogs, email newsletters, and web pages). When I get into it, I really get into it. So much so that I have noticed that when I get interrupted writing, my reaction is very much like my son when I tell him to pause his Playstation game to eat his dinner. It is what I call the “Wait..What?” response.  I usually just need to ask a few simple questions, get a few basic answers and then I immerse myself in the new topic, but it did get me thinking about my reaction.

Do Not Interrupt Image Credit - Flickr: SDASM Archives Creative Commons

Do Not Interrupt
Image Credit – Flickr: SDASM Archives
Creative Commons

I used to watch actors work every day in a previous career. They would come into a rehearsal room all self-conscious and awkward, and then proceed to strip away all their assumptions until they could inhabit a character. It usually took them a few weeks to do this but when it was done, once the actor went on stage you could not see where they ended and the new character began.
Digital Marketing is similar. We work with brands, and what are they but the human personification of organisations? We work with characters, or personas. Like actors, we have to figure out what motivates them. What is their purpose in each different situation? When digital works well, it feels natural and authentic. The language is a natural fit. We trust what it shows us, even though deep down we know that it is fleeting and created.

actor on stage

What is his motivation?
Image Credit – Flickr: State Library Queensland
Creative Commons

The Digital World is actually a lot like theatre. They both create virtual spaces where the normal rules do not apply. They are both dependent on technical folk who never see the light of day until the project is done or the coffee runs out. Theatre has sets and lights to create the space. The Digital World has wireframes and pixels. Theatre has that constant tension between art and bums on seats. We are torn between design and traffic. They make connections. We make links.

stage door

Image Credit – Flickr: State Library of New South Wales
Creative Commons

Like all good theatre shows, digital is very rarely the result of just one person. It needs a lot of input and collaboration. How other people see the character is important. Decisions about emphasis are crucial. There is nothing worse than a brand that forgets its passion and just starts selling. It is forced and wooden and amateurish. During the rehearsal process, actors have to put the characters on the floor. They take them off the page and get them moving about, trying different things. There is a culture of trying and experimenting and failing harder that creates the magic in theatre. They use the rehearsal room because they understand that allowing people to show vulnerability creates something stronger.

motion picture scene

Image Credit – Flickr: Florida Memory
Creative Commons

Something similar happens on the digital stage. The best companies break the rules. As a Twitter friend of mine said recently, there is no template for a spark. There might not be, but we can create conditions where the spark has a good chance of catching fire. Apply pressure. Add friction or conflict. Ensure there is plenty of oxygen. Then drag your material across the same surface repeatedly and see what happens. It works for me.

shakespeare - growth hacker
In the meantime, I have a newsletter to write.

Telepathic Technology

When I was growing up I was a big fan of science fiction. A lot of the books that I read had some sort of flying car as standard. By the year 2000, we were supposed to have flying cars everywhere. Instead we got a computer bug which never happened and really small phones.
calvin

The other technology which featured in the books I read was something that nobody expected but which has appeared as a tech trend this year – telepathic technology. We already have technology that can track changes in human physiological systems and respond in ways that change behaviour. Wearable technologies and the monitoring of personal data (transactional, physiological, behavioural or emotional) already allows for that feedback.
Monitoring technologies are not new. Since about 1200AD we have been using crystals that were set in bone or leather frames to enhance what we focus our attention on. We use clockwork and digital mechanisms to measure the passing of time. Today we have Nike sportsbands, Pebble watches, Google Glass and the rumoured Apple smartwatch is supposed to be on the way. All of these technologies are designed to monitor the personal data which arises out of our activities and to use that to feed back into more relevant content.
The big leap has been in feedback technology. Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) allows us to see what is going on in our brains by measuring the blood flow. It is now used by courts in America as a way of detecting if someone is telling the truth or not. Electroencelography (EEG) taps into the electrical resistivity of our scalps. Combine the two of these and you have telepathic technology. Last year, two researchers divided by the Atlantic but linked by EEG caps managed to use thought to communicate. There was no external signal that was sent by one and acted upon by the other. This was an internal thought from one brain to another which caused an involuntary physical action to occur. One guy imagined pressing a button while the other guy felt his finger move downward in a button pressing motion.

eeg cap

Anything related to the human mind and psychology will be of interest to those in a number of different fields, most noticeably affective computing (Techtarget, 2013), HCI, medical health and the military. DARPA are currently prototyping an early warning telepathic system to ease the strain on soldiers by using radar and camera technology to detect danger on the horizon. In the past this would often miss possible threats but the combination of an EEG helmet is returning a 100% success rate because it utilises the inbuilt mechanisms of the brain while also ensuring that the soldier remains alert and calm (Darpa, 2012). Stress reduction is an area where telepathic technologies are already being used. New headbands like Muse and Emotiv train the brain and relax the user. By linking to an app, the user is connected to audio content of a storm and by calming the mind, the wind will die down in their ears (The Spec, 2014).
MIT have developed telepathic technology for addicts and sufferers of PSTD which incorporates wearable technology that recognises crisis moments and intervenes with appropriate digital content and social networking messages designed to calm the patient (MIT, 2013). Autism researchers are also utilising it to help children make connections and communicate in different ways.
While telepathic technologies are expensive at present, they are starting to come down in price. Toy manufacturers were quick to use them for gaming. MIT have developed a gesture guitar which allows musicians to manipulate sounds. There are also audio headsets that plays music that mirrors the mood it is reading from your brain. Game manufacturers are creating brain wave games. Mattel have a mind powered ball game called Mindflex which moves a foam ball along a path by concentrating. There is also a “Force” trainer which used the mind the turn a fan which floats another foam ball in the air.
Retail were quick to see the benefits of monitoring emotional reactions to products and layout. They can see what users like, how they react to choice, when they get overwhelmed and when they respond with wonder. This helps create more engaging experiences for the customer.
keannu

The combination of personal data from the user combined with targeted products has already allowed designers to create highly personalised experiences such as mind controlled cars or the ability to change digital objects which reflect the user. Perhaps the biggest impact will be on people rather than products. Our ideas of access, privacy and surveillance are changing as it is. What happens when communication is done through thought? What will we do with all this hardware we carry around in our pockets? Will it become obsolete? Will our children look back and laugh at the thought of when we used to stop what we were doing, pull out a cumbersome old fashioned smart phone and start to tap and swipe at it like a woodpecker. With this sort of technology they should be able to bypass all that hardware. Will telepathic technology turn us all into our own computers? Why bother with pesky design software? Why not just imagine what you want and then print it through your 3D printer? The potential future uses of telepathic technology are limitless.

More reading

JWT Intelligence accessed http://www.jwtintelligence.com/2014/03/10-overriding-themes-sxswi-2014/#axzz2wvQ62ehm March 25 2014
The Spec accessed http://www.thespec.com/living-story/4422069-muse-headband-may-help-you-relax/ March 25 2014
Techtarget accessed http://whatis.techtarget.com/definition/affective-computing March 25 2014
MIT accessed http://affect.media.mit.edu/projects.php March 25 2014
Darpa accessed http://www.darpa.mil/NewsEvents/Releases/2012/09/18.aspx March 25 2014

Editing Wikipedia

I grew up with Encyclopedias. It was my job to look after them in our house. We had a black Collins 1973 set with gold lettering which moved around the house as my father constantly redecorated. The L- M had a piece of its binding torn, but I loved it for the way it broke the set in two on the shelf. One of them had its flyleaf desecrated with red crayon circles from my little sister. There was a complete cross section of the human body on layered glossy see-through pages. Each page had a seperate part of the human system, the circulation, reproductive, endocrine, digestive and so on, all in high gloss colour and it was like peeling a body away like an onion. It was enough to turn me into some psychopath but my heart was taken by the myths and legends collection which came with it. Stories, tales, fairy dreams and folk oddities from all over the world captured my imagination and would not release it.
I remember the Yearbook had a lot about Richard Nixon in it and it was strange to grow up reading about this guy and then hearing adults talk about Eamonn De Valera so much. That confused me, but it was nothing that rearranging the encyclopedias could not solve. They were authoritative, organised and linked but I wasn’t one of those kids that bowed at the altar of the encyclopedia. Subject headings, indexes and alphabetical arrangements became my manual of style but I would just as easily turn the books on their side and build walls of a fort with them. Of course, all that is gone now, but I am still an encyclopedia kid.

Codex Seraphinius Luigi Serafini

Codex Seraphinius
Luigi Serafini

So I jumped at the chance to become a Wikipedian recently. I attended an editathon in the Science Lab recently about the Battle of Clontarf organised by 1014 Retold. I like Wikipedia. It became a part of my second age of information when I returned to study even if I always got it mixed up with wikileaks at the start. I think that was from too many lecturers starting off by saying that wikipedia was going to be the death of democracy or giving out about it somehow. I remember finally discovering that wikipedia was run by Jimmy Wales and I got him confused with Jimmy Cauty from The KLF and I remember thinking that fella, there is nothing he won’t do.

Rock n Roll Encyclopedias will never die

Jimmy Wales
Wikipedia Founder and Rock n Roll crazy man

I like that wikipedia is not perfect. I like that anyone can edit it. I realise that it has a male bias and that the editors have gotten into trouble in the past with not being objective and acting as PR consultants for small countries, but nothing is perfect. Yes, people have engaged in revenge edits and edit wars but its accessiblity makes up for it. It is so easy to get information. The page design combines the layout of traditional encyclopedias with the simplicity of the google home page and everything of relevance is hyperlinked in the web structure that we know and love.

Image Credit - Creative Commons U.S. National Archives

Image Credit – Creative Commons
U.S. National Archives


I knew that you could edit a wikipedia page already, but an editathon is the ideal way to start. We had a real life wikipedian-in-residence from the Natural History & Science Museum in London, John Cummings, who walked us through the ins and outs of making edits to the Battle of Clontarf page. John has also created the Monmouthpedia which is an amazing idea to curate a whole town with QR codes and translate them into different languages for visitors to access. There were historians there aswell as people who were into the idea of information sharing (Open Knowledge Foundation). There was even a phd student who was studying why people edit wikipedia. Most of us were beginners but it did not take us long to get the hang of it. We learned how to use wikimarkup to format a page and we set about updating the history of the Battle of Clontarf for the 21st century. I found it to be an enjoyable way of practising information skills without any sort of real pressure.

Image Credit - Banksy

Image Credit – Banksy

SEO and Irish Pubs

I recently attended a talk given by David McWilliams where he explained his economic theory based on Irish pubs and I was reading about the Irish connection to the birth of the internet and this naturally got me thinking about Irish pubs and SEO. Websites and Irish pubs are recognisable formats for information transfer. Both attempt to make you feel like you are in the right place at the right time. Both are trusted as authoritive(-ish) sources that generate repeat visits. Both create additional hard-to-pin-down qualities (the aboutness of a website and the “craic” in a pub). Both use complicated algorithms to satisfy information queries (pagerank and the process where the most trusted result to my question about who will win the 3:45 at Cheltenham will probably come from the person that shares the most amount of drinks with me). So, as St Patrick said to the pagan while explaining the holy trinity – Let’s break this shit down.

Internal Factors
Irish pubs have a recognisable design known the world over. It will have a name over the door, a drinks counter, local characters, and places where you can rest (anything from polished wooden stools to planks on beerkegs). Likewise, websites use HTML to create pleasing visual resting places. They usually have head tags, title tags, body tags and header tags to help the visitor feel like they are at a trustworthy establishment. Layout and architecture are also important in both, as they need to be easily navigable and I know from personal experience that people move differently when in pubs and on websites. Irish pubs have niche areas where visitors get a more specific experience (the snug, the counter, the music corner, the hallway out to the toilets, old Jimmy’s chair) and it is a good idea to inform new visitors about them to help them find their way around. Site speed is also a factor. When there are large amounts of visitors in a pub, load-time can send people out the door.

Irish Pub of the Week #7

<title>O’ DONOHUE’S</title>
Image Credit – National Library of Ireland

Irish pubs are known for being full of conversation, or content. That content is best served in a natural way, using the language that a visitor is familiar with. Similarly, the content of a website needs to be relevant to a visitors needs. There is no point having content based on sport if your visitors are looking for music. That will lead to a high bounce rate (someone sticking their head in the door, having a quick scan, and moving on down the road to the next pub) and will reduce the time spent on site. If you see this happening, have a look at why it is happening.

External Factors
Although Irish pubs appear to be self-contained locations, in reality they are more like hubs or crossroads in a community. Connections run into them at the speed of a rumour. Irish pubs are defined by their links, and because of the diaspora they usually have backlinks coming from all over the world to them. Some of them can be high quality links like Barack Obama, but equally important are the number of neighbourhood links. These measure the popularity of the pub to the local community. So, if the local butcher or the GAA captain frequents the pub, you can be sure that it is a relevant place. This endorsement is vital for Irish pubs. Unlike British pubs, which are owned by corporate conglomerates, Irish pubs have owners. This brings with it an element of trust that the visitor can count on. The same logic applies to a website.
Of course, Irish pubs are famous for being social communities. They are frequented by social referrers whose primary behaviour is interaction, engagement and sharing. Like a website, time spent on site is usually a good indicator of a satisfying experience. However, it could also flag that there is a problem with visitors getting stuck or lost there. Unfortunately, this can often happen. When the social referrers are in tune with relevant content we get that unique irish phenomenon called “the craic”. This is the holy grail of most websites – user generated content, or as it is known in marketingland, earned media. Irish pubs have different types of social referrers. You get the local businessman who just wants to relax after a hard weeks work (Facebook), the gossiper who flits from conversation to conversation picking up and dropping titbits (Twitter), the outspoken argumentative one who has seen it all (YouTube), the one who looks at the past through rosy coloured glasses (Instagram), the son of the owner who tries to be part of every group (Google Plus), the nerdy one in the corner reading a book (Tumblr) and the one who falls asleep and get his face drawn on by his friends (Snapchat). The combination of all these factors creates what is known to web developers as personalisation, and what is known to Irish pub-goers as “the local”.

Patrick Sullivan's Bar

Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram, Google Plus, Tumblr and Snapchat..
and a dog pretending to be someone
Image Credit – National Library of Ireland

So, for the day that is in it, Lá Fhéile Pádraig Sona Duit!

Digital Romance

Image taken from page 605 of '[Love Lyrics and Valentine Verses, for young and old. [E. M. Davies. With illustrations.]]'

This morning my feed was full of Valentines. Everything from cupcakes to a couple buried together in ancient Italy for romantic archaeologists. It got me thinking about romance on the internet. Specifically, the history of it, how it works and how it affects us. Of necessity, this will dip into sex but I am deliberately avoiding that as it would need a seperate blogpost.

Heart-shaped box
Technology promises freedom. Communication technology promises access. It connects people with information and people with people. In the old days you had to go to a brothel to look at erotica or to a temple to look at carvings. Now it can come to you. After the bible, romantic “fiction” was the next genre that drove the adoption of the printing press. In the 1800s, the telegraph was used for long-distance romance. In 1848, the first “online” wedding too place between a bride in Boston and a groom in New York. In the 20th century the car was the biggest technological advance which brought people together unsupervised. Those of us who still carry the light of the pre digital world will remember when contacting your loved one meant using a phone to ring the actual building where they lived and being put through to an adult guardian first. Amazingly, this worked surprisingly well.

Soldier's goodbye & Bobbie the cat, Sydney, ca. 1939-ca. 1945 / by Sam Hood

Information Behaviour
I come from generations of people that lived and died within the same geographical sod of land in a valley. People accessed information about other people through traditional gate-keepers. In some cases, this was a formal matchmaker. In other cases, the social system acted as a limit to how people met. Usually people found partners through school or work or friends of friends, like Google Plus on a local level. That would have been fine if those pesky kids just stopped progressing. We are now living in a world where geography does not have the same limit and where online social interaction is the norm. In our constantly-on world of status updates it is like we are communicating in the same place at the same time.

Information Retrieval
Online dating has exploded as a result of this. I have friends of a certain age who would have viewed online dating as a sad fad for the socially inept, but they now use online dating as easily as they used to pop into the pub to see who was out on a friday night. The stigma is gone. While the media like to focus on scare stories of stalkers and people who assume false identities (this happens offline too!), I know more and more people who met online and are happy. Like Google, you now have the ability to retrieve more relevant matches based on your search parameters and the playing field is wide open. Most dating sites use data to see who we are compatible with. Very efficient and scientific, if that is what you are looking for.

Unlimited Access
Not only can we find people that we were never able to before, we can also find more information about people. The problem with access to all this information is that we now have too much choice. Privacy is also another concern. While you can be more open and visible now (which is an essential part of relationships), there is more of a danger of your information being used against you. Sexting is an example of this as it gives rise to cyberbullying, blackmail and public shame. If this were purely a problem for unthinking young people it would be just a case of teaching them online etiquette. Unfortunately, according to a recent report by McAfee, 49% of adults have sent naked images of themselves to others.

Two women boxing

Death of Distance
While online dating is an obvious example of how the internet has impacted on romance, there are numerous platforms that allow people to explore relationships. Since the internet started, forums have been one of the main ways for people to connect and form communities of interest. They offer opportunities for people with niche interests to meet. They allow people to share about relationships issues in a very positive and educational way while also guarding anonymity. Snapchat was set up to counter the idealised online identity that many of us have on the internet. Posting nude pictures of yourself that self-destruct would probably achieve this. Chatroulette is something similar, an online chatroom that pairs strangers with random partners for web based conversations. It used to be was the hunting ground of young males until they introduced skin based filters and moderators which could block some of the more less salubrious material. Twitter has long ago had its first tweeted proposal and I remember one year sending my other half a facebook ad targetted specifically at her for Valentines Day (It didn’t work because she installed an ad-blocker!). Blogs are no stranger to being used for love. Research has shown that they are often used to allow people to create elaborate online fantasies. As the internet went mobile, so did romance with the use of location based apps such as Grindr and Blendr taking dating to the hyperlocal level.

Visit of the Chancellor of the University of London, HRH Princess Anne to the School, 8 May 1986

While I have only touched on a few aspects of online romance, we can see that it is alive and well in the internet age, driven by algorithms and desire. The question is will it add to our relationships or will it turn us into more isolated individuals.

Image taken from page 48 of 'Loving and Loth: a novel. By the author of “Rosa Noel,” etc. [Bertha De Jongh.]'