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TranNghi Loving on the net How People Understand Their Love Life in Cyberspace


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									                  Thesis Submitted for the ICA Conference

             /RYLQJ RQ WKH QHW :
              How People Understand
            Their Love Life In Cyberspace

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  By using in-depth interview, this paper tries to describe how people
  understand their love life in cyberspace and what the relationship they think
  between their virtual life and the real life. It critically discusses intimate
  relation online from three perspectives. First, it concerns the great changes
  that the new electronic media takes to us and especially what new the
  Internet takes to us compared with television. Second, it introduces the social
  life in virtual community where the digital love takes place. Third, it discusses
  whether a strong intimate relationship can take place in virtual space.

  This study finds Internet can sustain strong emotion among people. The
  relation between virtual couples is not “ pure relationship”. “Fun” and feeling
  of “ happiness” during the process are two primary motivations for cyber-love.
  It is difficult for people to clearly separate virtual world and real world.
  Whether or not the people’s love life is completely online, they don’t look the
  virtual life as their whole life.

         1. Introduction and Literature Review

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The biggest change in communication in the last 40 years since the advent of television
has been the invention and growth of the Internet. It is widely accepted that the
appearance and widely using of Internet is a media revolution because it brings so many
big changes to our everyday life. In China, in 1999, young people are often asked, “ Will
you go abroad to study?”1 However, in the year of 2000, the question that young people
are asked most frequently is “ Are you loving online?”

Five years ago, when I became a fresh student in Beijing University, I asked my
professor, what I should do in next four years. “Three things, I think”, he answered me
with smile, “ Study, make friends and love!” Then he emphasized that “ please note, your
life will not be wonderful without any one of the three!” My classmates and I have been
keeping his answer in mind till today. In fact, those three things that studying or working,
making friends and loving are so most important things, not only in the campus life but in
our whole life.

Internet changes our life style of working, making friends and love. I think Internet
changes our life through two perspectives. The first one is it changes the relationship
between information and human beings; the second one is it changes people’s
interpersonal communication by using the email, chat rooms, MUD and so on. These two
changes are the source of other changes that Internet brings to us. It is very obvious that
the Internet impact our studying and working greatly, for example we have relied Internet
on collecting information or data for our research; we have been accustomed to sending
and receiving documents by e-mail; everyday, we visit the website of LSE to read useful
news, renew our books borrowed from library and get the information about our courses.
It is also obvious that Internet create a new relationship between people in cyberspace.

  As a developing country, more and more Chinese people realize the importance of the education and hope
to do degree in advanced countries.

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Unlike the traditional media- newspaper, broadcasting, television, Internet provides a
virtual space for the people to having social life. For example, in China, in 1999, young
people are often asked, “ Will you go abroad to study?”2 However, in the year of 2000,
the question that young people are asked most frequently is “ Are you loving online?”

The popular press contains numerous reports of love online or particularly strong
relationships that have been formed through email or chat rooms. This idea also became
the subject of a romantic movie, you’ve got mail, starring Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks.
However, there are few academic articles written about the digital love. I think when a
social phenomenon becomes very popular and impact our life greatly; it should be paid
attention by us researchers. I don’t know how many people on earth are loving online, but
I know it is essential to do a research about it. As an MSc student in media and
communications, I can’t research it like a professional psychologist. I will focus it from
the angle of media and communications. The questions I expect to answer are how people
understand their love life in cyberspace, what kind of relationship they think between the
real life and virtual life. Through answering these questions, I will try to do some analysis
on Digital Eros.

In this section, I will discuss this topic from three perspectives: the Internet, the social life
in virtual community and intimate relationship online. The front two topics both have it
in common that they have been widely discussed and can be considered from many
different aspects. In my paper I will only discuss the aspects that is relevant for my
research questions. Each topic is not isolated but interrelated to others.

New Media, New Life

More than a decade ago, computers begin to enter millions of families. As advanced
tools, computers help people write, calculate, keep track of our accounts, entertainment
and so on. The communication between people and computers is one-on-one, a person
and a machine. At that time, although our life is benefited from that new technologies and

  As a developing country, more and more Chinese people realize the importance of the education and hope
to do degree in advanced countries.

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is changed by it in a way, the benefit and the change is very limited. We could not call
computers as media. However, a rapidly expanding system of networks, Internet, links
millions of people instead of people talking to machines. Internet has been changing the
way we think, we do, the nature of our interpretation on the life and the form of our
communication with people.

“Social change is always too complex to attribute to a single cause and too diverse to
reduce to a single process”, in the book of No Sense of Place, Joshua Meyrowitz (1986)
argues that one common theme that connects many phenomena is a change in Americans’
“sense of place”. He looks the word “sense” and the word “place” as two meanings puns.
He defines “sense” as both perception and logic; “place” as both social position and
physical location. His argument is that the evolution in media has changed the logic of
the social order by restructuring the relationship between physical place and social place
and by altering the ways in which we transmit and receive social information. I think he
emphasizes two points here, media effect on the relationship between physical place and
social place and the transformation of receiving information.

Joshua suggests “electronic media have combined preciously distinct social settings,
moved the dividing line between private and public behavior toward the private, and
weakened the relationship between social situations and physical places.” He figures that
television has helped people change their logic greatly: It changed the deferential Negro
into the proud black, merged the Miss and Mrs. into a Ms, transformed the child into a
“human being” with natural rights; fostered the rise of hundreds of minorities,
empowered the disabled and the disenfranchised, gave women an outside view of their
incarceration in the home, weakened the visible authorities…As a new media at that time,
television shows great power to the people.

Moreover, Joshua argues “electronic media do much more than take the information that
was once available only in print and deliver it to new audiences…electronic media
further integrate information-systems by merging for merely private situations into

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formerly public ones.”3 Joshua emphasizes that the electronic media changes the form we
send and receive information. On one hand, television blurs the definition of time. Unlike
newspaper, television takes the latest news well and truly to the audiences. They even can
watch how an event is going while it is happening. People can get information easier and
sooner than before. On the other hand, television disturbed the boundaries of private and
the public. You can’t have a home totally belong to you because television takes so much
social information to your private house. Meanwhile, more and more common people and
their concerned topics come into television. The public focuses on the things of the
private. The public is becoming more private.

Joshua gives us a very good explanation on the relationship between electronic media and
social transformation, which is helpful to consider Internet. Firstly, Internet further
enlarges the range of social communication of people. The Internet allows people almost
anywhere in the world to communicate one another quickly and easily. It breaks the
limitation of area and gathers worldwide people into a big house. The possibility of
communication with the people in different cultural background is greatly increased.
Secondly, it takes new communication form to the people. Traditional mass media, like
newspaper, broadcasting and television have primary offered a one-to-many model of
communication; Internet provide new models: many-to-many and many-to-one. Joshua
emphasizes that the new media, television, changes the ways in which we receiving
information, while I emphasizes here that new media, Internet, enhance our capability of
sending information. Thirdly, with the invention and expanding of Internet, talking is not
the only best way in which people send and receive information well and rapidly. In
cyberspace, more and more people are becoming accustomed to communicating by text,
which also means that they needn’t always face-to-face. All these new changes must take
much bigger changes to our social life.

Living in the virtual community

In Longman Dictionary, community is defined as a group of people living together and/ or
united by shared interests, religion, nationality, etc. Calhoun argues, “community life can

    Joshua Meyrowitz (1985) No sense of place, Oxford Press (P93)

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be understood as the life people live in dense, multiplex, relatively autonomous networks
of social relationships… community, thus, is not a place or simply a small-scale
population aggregate, but a mode of relating, variable in extent.” (Calhoun, 1998, P391) I
think we can analyze the virtual community from four perspectives. There are four basic
elements in the term of community.
   •   Population. Strictly saying, Internet communities have not steady population.
       They are just some names on Internet. However, some online communities have
       some steady civics, for example Yahoo and some BBS. People are used to
       studying, reading news, entertaining and making friends at the community. If we
       want to know whether a community online is good, we just have a look at how
       degree the people stay loyal to it.
   •   Area. Internet realizes the dream of “global village” of McLuhan. People can
       choose to live in a community all over the Internet world. They need not worry
       about the national boundaries. Most people select to live with the people who
       share the same language and interest with them. They create the new culture
       together on their electric community. At the same time, wherever the people go,
       London or New York, they can live in the community online at any place.
   •   Relative activities. Normally, economic activities are the basic activities in a
       community. In cyberspace, people can do some shopping at their community,
       which called electric commerce. It is a basis of communities online. Meanwhile,
       people can also study, work and entertain. People’s life in the community online
       is rich and colorful.
   •   Management. Ethic and institution are very important to a community. No matter
       you live in a real community or an unreal community, ethic and institution are
       prerequisites to keep a society in working order. In every electric community,
       there is always a “ Community Institution”. We call it institution, but it is not a
       real institution, because the master of the community can’t punish the misfeasors.
       However, the managers have the power to delete the messages which they think
       are unconstitutional from BBS and expel the people who are illegal from

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In brief, we call it electric community because it really has some characteristics of the
real community. According the three dimensions of community of Calhoun (1998),
density, multiplexity and autonomy, the community online has denser population, provide
more multiplex social life and has less autonomy ability than real communities, thus we
can look the community online as a special community. In fact, to some extent, the birth
of it changes the concept of the old or traditional community.

Positive communication in social life online can enlarge the sociality range and advance
the sociality ability of people. It also increases communicative opportunities between the
people who live in different places and have different culture background. Internet
enhances the efficiency of intercommunication. People’s life in electric communities is
rich and colorful, which is helpful for people to lighten pressure and temper the mood.
Meanwhile, the social life in cyberspace also has negative influence on that in real world.
It is said that Internet can make the far things near and make the near things far, which
imply people’s fear that people may ignore the communication in the real world if they
involve in the Internet too devilishly? The fear is not unreasonable. Some people like
living in cyberspace because it make them feel relaxed. They can’t distinct the real world
and the virtual world. They enjoy living in the cyberspace and ignore the real life.
Sometimes, Internet is even like marijuana. By using it to hocus themselves, some people
try to forget the trouble and suffering in real world. However if they live in this way for a
long time, result may be very terrible.

Internet changes the social logic by changing the ways in which people transmit and
receiving information. Therefore, Internet brings ethic panic to real life. A research on the
teen users (under 18 years old) of ICQ in Hong Kong shows that about 30% children
often lie on ICQ4. Media is a carrier of social ethic and culture, people get to know what
kind of persons they should be from the media. It looks danger that many growing
children are socializing though Internet. They possibly bring the bad habit in cyberspace
just like being self-willed, self-indulgent, irresponsible, untruthful and so on This should
be cared about by the parents, educators and media researchers.

    From www.zijin.com.cn

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However, some research suggests that only North Americans usually have more than
1000 interpersonal relations, but that only a half-dozen of them are intimate and no more
than 50 are significantly strong (kochen 1989; wellman 1992). Yet, in the aggregate, a
person’s other 950+ are important sources of information, support, companionship, and
as sense of belonging. Therefore, the fear people will move too much involvement away
from the real life is not very essential.    My interview is just include this kind of

Loving online

My young cousin of 21-year-old fell in love with a girl who he has never met. The girl’s
city is very far from his. They got to know each other through Internet and use a lot of
time dating online everyday. To be honest, they look devoted like any couple that love in
real life. Unimaginably, some days before, in order to stay with my cousin, the girl
bravely abdicated her job and moved to our city, which takes a big storm to my family.
My aunty can’t understand their behavior and is so worry about it. I am not shocked
about the story, many people had or having similar experiences.

Love is always one of the most popular literature subjects. Simply saying, love is a warm,
kind feeling between two persons. It is also defined as sexual passion and desire in
Oxford Dictionary5. As many “love” theorists note, there are a lot of approaches to love
and it is quite difficult to give an exact definition to it. In this article, we pay more
attention to that behavioral and cognitive meaning of love rather than sexual or
psychological perspectives.

People live in different eras always have different love ideology. As the most important
carrier of social information, media play a important role in creating love ideology of
people. By reading love story in the magazines, seeing love film in the cinema, and
listening to love songs from broadcasting or the Walkman, people get much knowledge of

  A S Hrnby (1984) Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary of Current English With Chinese
Translation, Oxford Press

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others’ love, which affect on their own love ideology greatly. Internet not only can do it
like the traditional media, it also bring people many opportunities to experience love in
media. With the expanding of Internet, more and more people not only can experience
love indirectly through traditional media like before, but also can get experiences directly
online, which must create a new different love ideology and relationship between lovers.

In her article, Dating on the Net: Teens and the Rise of “ Pure” Relationships, Lynn uses
qualitative interviews, participant observation, and teen-led focus groups to explore the
emergent practice of teenage dating on the Internet. In her article, Lynn quotes a term of
Pure Relation that is introduced by Anthory Giddens in the book of the Transformation of
         A pure relationship has nothing to do with sexual purity, and is a
            limiting concept rather than only a descriptive one. It refers to a
            situation where a social relation is entered into for its own sake,
            for what can be derived by each person from a sustained
            association with another; and which is continued only in so far as
            it is thought by both parties to deliver enough satisfactions for
            each individual to stay within it.

Over the course of a year, Lynn and her assistant interviewed 61 teens and 26 of their
family members. Lynn’s argument is Internet dating shares many characteristics with the
pure relationship, yet its relationship among teens also challenges Giddens’ analysis on
the role of trust and intimacy. Internet dating is considered “pure” because persons don’t
select their romantic partners by social mores of their families or communities. “Instead,
relationships are sought out and maintained solely for the gratifications they provide to
the persons involved.”(P186) Lynn noted that “ Sex among teens has been transformed
from the externalized ‘thrill’ of the 1950s ‘date’ to something much more consensual,
intimate, and important in the construction of self-identity.” (P179) The question that
most of people dating online think about is “ how is this relationship fulfilling to me?”

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Giddens argued that pure relationships offer the opportunity for the development of trust
based on voluntary commitments and an intensified intimacy. He also notes that “The
pure relationship depends on mutual trust between partners, which in turn is closely
related to the achievement of intimacy…to build up trust, an individual must be both
trusting and trustworthy…”However, Lynn finds that many teens can’t give their trust to
others when they are having Internet dating. They try to avoid emotional investment
because they know paying too much emotion will be a treat to them. They look the
cyberspace as a risk society6. She also finds that trust and “ authenticity” is not central to
teen chat room relationships; but “fun” is. They can be whoever you want to be. They
enjoy the mysterious feeling. They need not necessarily be honest and be limited by the
commitment. The emphasis on “fun” and “inconsequentiality” suggests that the teens
online feel no need to consider how their own behavior might impact others. Therefore,
Internet dating, despite its possibilities for verbal intimacy and egalitarian relationships,
has big difference with pure relationship.

Lynn does a very significant attempt to study the digital emotion. Her research objects are
teenagers who are a special group. They always feel more curious and mysterious about
love than adults. What she focuses on is the relationship between teens whom dating
online. She doesn’t talk about the relationship between the people and their communities.
Then, how adult people think about the love life online? What difference people think
about love in virtual space and in real space? How they think the love life impact on their
real life? These are the questions I will describe through Interviews.

  This illustrated in Modell’s (1989) argument: in the 1950s love had been defined in terms of meeting role
expectations. Now it was “characterized by meeting the needs of the other through interaction,
commitment, affection, and non-possessiveness.” Mutuality was no longer a theme of coming together in
mystic sexual union but rather of each partner enhancing the other’s happiness. Each couple represented a
fresh negotiation of promising but uncertain potential that would endure while each partner gratified the
openly pleasure- seeking self of the other.

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                                   2. Methodology

In this study, in-depth individual interview online is used as my research method. As I
maintained the questions I aim to follow is:
   •   Does Internet sustain the strong intimate relationship? How do people understand
       their love life in cyberspace?
   •   Are the people think their virtual experiences of love separated from the real?
       What the relationship they think between the virtual are the real?

Why interview online?

The people’s feeling of love or deep emotion is very complicated and can’t be merely
attribute to “yes” or “no” or some simple options of “A, B, C, D”. Therefore, I consider
in-depth interviews as a very good way to do so. Therefore, in-depth individual interview
is the main research method of my research.

Unlike most of interviews carried out by media researchers, I do these interviews online.
Firstly, my research topic is cyber-love, I prefer listening to their experiences and feeling
at the place they are familiar to communicate with people. I look everybody that I
interviewed as an individual in cyberspace. I don’t care whether he/she says the truth
with me. I don’t think the real identity is indispensable to this study. Even if they don’t
tell me their real identity and their real thought, I can get some information about their
behavior online and thought, which is also helpful for my analysis. Secondly, I look
Internet as a very good place to do my interviews. On one hand, the communication

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between interviewees and I is by text. By using text, people often have a very clear
thinking, which is helpful for making our talk in-depth. On the other hand, because I
haven’t much time to do much communication with my interviewees before I interviewed
them, some persons may feel shy to talk about their private things with me. Internet helps
me to help them get over it because we needn’t talk face-to-face.


Seven participants are selected randomly from Internet. In order to communicate deeply
and fluently, I selected Chinese people to interview in my mother language, Chinese.
They are Yang Po, Yue-yue, Da Li, Putong, Chuan, Sophie and Beast7. All of them are
young people from 17-year-old to 31-year-old.

The finding process is as following: First, I found a chat room named No Fault in Love
Online in www.sina.com which is the largest and most popular Chinese Internet portal
(website). I randomly selected 30 persons as the candidates of my samples and found
their email address from their member file online. Secondly, I sent e-mail to every one of
them in which I told them I was MSc student majoring in Media and Communications. I
was doing my dissertation about the digital Eros. I asked them whether they would like to
receive an interview through Internet. If yes, send an email to me. I received 9 letters in
reply. I replied them as soon as possible and discussed the timetable with every one of

My final sample is 7 people but not 9. Two people were cancelled at last, because I found
they didn’t answer my question seriously. That is not what I want. I had to give up. That
is the Internet.


    See Appendix 1

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Our communication is by text. On one hand, by using text, interviewees always have a
clearing thinking when we talk, which is helpful for making our talk in-depth.
Interviewing online also helps me to take an original and intact note of our conversation.
On the other side, because the typing speed is slower than the talking speed, I can’t get
much information like talking.

Second, I can’t see the motion of the other side during the interview, so it is difficult to
understand the messages accurately. Interviewees possibly use the text to cover up their
actual mood and notions. However it can help interviewees to cover up being shy when
we talk about a private topic.

Third, I can’t confirm the real identity of the interviewees. However, the information they
provided me is also useful for me. It gives me a framework of their identity online. Even
if their identity is not real, they told me their thought as a virtual person, which is also
useful. In fact, it is impossible to assure that all the information you get from interviews
is totally real, even from the talk face-to-face.

In addition, from the practice of interview online, I find it is much more difficult to
control the talk online than in the real. It is also difficult to arouse the enthusiasm of
interviewees to answer the questions they are not interested in. All the tools I can use are
only letters.

In order to get more information by text, I extend the time of interviews from 30 minutes
to one hour. In order to get more information for analyzing the interviewee’s real identity,
I pay some attention to whether there is some conflict in their talking. In order to arouse
the interest and enthusiasm of the interviewees, I tried making my dialogue lively,
pleasant and interesting.

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         3. Results and Interpretation of the Research

3.1 The social life in cyberspace

It is essential to get some information about the interviewees’ social life in cyberspace.
By answering the questions, the interviewees may provide us some knowledge about how
they look on Internet and people’s life in cyberspace. I think that is the basic of their
attitude to cyber-love. Here is the status of Internet using of the interviewees.

                                              Hours of using Internet
        Name              Years of internet         everyday              The fountain of Internet
       Yang Po                   7                      16              Email, read news, down load
                                                                            software, see films
       Yue-yue                   8                      5                    Email, read news,
        Chuan                    8                      8                 Email, work, software,
                                                                           entertainment, BBS
        Putong                   4                     2-3                    Email, chat, BBS
         Dali                    7                      2                    Email, read news,
                                                                                 Data lookup
        Sophie                   6                      4                Email, news reading, chat,
                                                                                 Data lookup
        Beast                    3                      2                        Email, chat

                               Table 1: the using of Internet

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We can easily find from the table 1 that all the interviewees use Internet everyday. The
average time they use Internet is 5.6 hours per day8. It suggests that Internet has become a
very important part of their everyday life. People can do many things online, but it is
obvious that email is the most important and popular form of interaction on the Internet.
Email allows an individual to send a message directly to another person and is open to
receive messages from anybody and anywhere. The far-ranging use of email shows that
one of the most significant functions of Internet is interpersonal communication one-by-
one. Anyway, reading news is another main aim that people use Internet, which shows
Internet has become a big source of information of social world.

How people use Internet? What a kind of role people think the Internet plays in their life?
           —Yang Po: My computer is open for almost 24 hours everyday. It gets up when I
               get up and goes to sleep when I go to sleep. Because I am living in the school’s
               residence, I can use Internet of Wide Bond with free of charge. That is so great
               for me. Sometimes, I feel that that computer is just like a second me, I mean
               my second self. I can do so many things at there: send and receive email,
               download the software I need, use Internet phone to call my family, see the
               films…In a word, it is so important to me. I really don’t know how I lived
               before I knew Internet.
           —Chuan: I don’t know what kind of role Internet plays in my life, but I know I
               can’t leave it. I almost haven’t written letters since the day I began to use
               Internet. All my friends are in my computer. By using Internet, we can contact
               very easily and rapidly.
           —Dali: A computer is just a machine, but when it connects with Internet, it
               becomes more smart and warmhearted. I have to say I can’t be without it.
               Everyday, I receive more than 20 emails from different place. Deal with these
               email have become a part of my work every day.

    I use 2.5 hours as Putong’s using time to calculate the average

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All the people I interviewed think they are relying on Internet. Internet has become an
essential tool of their working and studying. Internet has become a main carrier of
people’s communication. All of them think their life can’t be without Internet.

Chat is another important forms of interaction on the Internet. It differs from email lists
and BBS that it supports instant messages. That means people can communicate by
sending text synchronously. It is an important method to know people online. In fact, as
talk is main form of communication between couples in real life, text chat is main form
of dating online. Therefore, the attitude to Internet and chat online influence the people’s
perspectives on digital Eros.

My first question around it is “ Have you chat online?” All the people answer: “Yes.”
Then I continued, “how many people do you think often lie online, especially in chat
room?” Also, all the people answer affirmatively “yes”. The percentage of people who lie
online they think is in the Table 2.

                         Name                 The percentage of people lie online
                                                   (the interviewees think)
                       Yang Po                                30%
                       Yue-yue                                 50%
                        Chuan                                  70%
                        Putong                                 30%
                         Dali                                  40%
                        Sophie                                 50%
                         Beast                                 50%
                  Average percentage:               4 2 .5 %

         Table 2: the percentage of people lie online (the interviewees think)

It obvious here that all the people I interviewed think there are some people lie online.
The average percentage is not small, 42.5%.
       —Yang Po: I seldom chat in chat room with people I don’t know. I don’t like
          doing it. I only chat with friends I know. However, if I chat online, I will tell
          my real identity to the person I talk. Yes, many people lie online, but I think
          most of people don’t do it.

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         —Chuan: I don’t believe that many people say the truth in chat room. In fact, I
             often lie at there. That is not baleful cheat. That is just a game. If you lie in real
             life, you are a bad man. However you can do it online. Never mind, you can do
         —Beast: I like chatting online although I know many people lie there. I am not
             very social; I prefer to talk by keys and mouse than by mouth. I believe that I
             have the ability to judge whether the people lying with me.
         —Sophie: lie? No problem. I don’t care about it. They are not my real friends, so
             I don’t care. I have enough friends in real life. Chat online is my very
             important means of communicating with them.

Different people have different attitude to the chat room and the behavior of people’s
lying. Although all the interviewees think there is people lie online, not all of people care
about it. That shows people can’t provide all the trust to the partners they chat with. In
other word, the people think the society in cyberspace is a risk society9. They must be
alert to drop into emotional risk because they know they are affront of threat to

     1.2 Digital love, the real love? How people understand their love life online?

Some scholars argued that the comparatively low bandwidth of computer-mediated
communication couldn’t by itself sustain strong ties (Johns 1995). They suggests that
without physical and social cues or immediate feedback, email can foster extreme
language, difficulties in coordination and feedback, and group polarization (Hiltz et al
1993). Then can strong intimate relationship happen in virtual place? In the people I
interviewed, only Yang Po has not love experiences at all. The other six people described
different love experiences with me.

 Giddens cites the term of “ risk socity” in his book of The Transformation of Intimacy. He notes that “
Living in the risk society means living with a calculative attitude to the open possibilities of action, positive
and negative, with which, as individuals and globally, we are confronted in a continuous way in our
contemporary social existence.” (P28)

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           — Yue-yue: I seldom chat online. I met a boy on the yahoo massager 10 and
               talked very well. After talking for three times, we decided to have a meet.
               Now, he is my boyfriend. We love each other very much. I don’t think it
               should be called digital love, because we love in real life in deed. However, I
               feel thankful to Internet, because it makes me know my boyfriend.
           —Putong: To be honest, my aim of chatting online is just to find a digital lover.
              So I only talk with girls at there. One day, when I saw a person named “white-
              snow” coming online, I waved with her at once: “ Hi, my dear White-snow
              princess, could you have a talk with me?” She replied at once: “ Of course, my
              dear prince.” Although I have never met her, I think we have fell in love.
           —Dali: I knew my girlfriend because she is a friend of one of my friends. We
              have never met because we aren’t in the same country now. In less than eight
              months, we have written about 300 emails in all. I can recite every email
           —Sophie: Before my boyfriend and I fell in love online, we have met for some
              times long time ago. At that time, we were not very familiar, just say hello. He
              was not special at all. I met him again at a chat room one day. From then on,
              we chat every day. Sometimes, I feel we are in a virtual space, but the love is
              real. Chatting with him online is my habit every day now.
           —Beast: I don’t know whether it is love, but I know when I feel sad, the first
              thing I want to do is to open my computer and to tell her my feeling. When I
              have good news, also, the first thing I want to do is to see whether she is online
              because I want to share my happiness with her.
           —Chuan: I get to know the feeling of being a woman online. That is a game. A
              man of 43-year-old loves me online. However, it is not a real me. That is just a
              bet with my friend that whether I can make a man falls in love with me. Guess
              what? He wants to meet me!!! How can I?

In their love stories, the roles of Internet are not same. Putong, Dali and Beast have never
met their girlfriends in real life. Most of their communication is in cyberspace. To Yue-
yue, Internet provided her a very important opportunity to know her boyfriend. To

     A product of Yahoo, which can sustain the synchronous communication by text online

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Sophie, Internet changes the impossibility of going closely to his boy possible. However,
to chuan, Internet is a folding screen that helps him playing love game without
commitment. In these six people, only Chuan is NOT serious. Dali, Yue-yue, Sophie can
affirm the identity of their partners since they have met or have the same friend in real
life. It is obvious that they really invest emotion in the process of communication and
build intimate relationship with their partner. For example, Dali said he could recite
almost all the 300 emails they wrote, which shows he really has strong feeling to the girl.
We can’t ignore that his online ties have many characteristics similar to strong offline
ties 11 . “They encourage frequent, companionable contact and are voluntary except in
work situation.”12

Putong and Beast love truly in virtual world. They even can’t affirm the identity of their
partner. That seems a contradiction: on one hand, they think there are 30%-50% people
lie online; on the other hand, they are loving online seriously and devotedly. Then how
they understand their experiences?

         —Putong: Romantic, isn’t it? If it hasn’t happened to me, I would never believed
            I could love a girl that I have never met.
         — Interviewer (I): Are you sure that is love? How do you define love?
         — Putong: well…Love is the thing that makes you can’t help bethinking of a
             person. Like all the couples, we share our feeling together. If she feels happy,
             I feel happy too.
         — Interviewer (I): but you can’t meet.
         — Putong: Yes, we can. We can meet online. While I am talking with her, I
             imagine her face and expression. That is enough.
         — Interviewer (I): but you know, many people lie online. If she…

   Personal relationship theorists tell us that the stronger a tie, the more intensely it exhibits these
characteristics: (1) a sense of the relationship being intimate and special, (2) with a voluntary investment in
the tie and (3) a desire for companionship with the tie partner; (4) an interest in being together as
frequently as possible (5) in multiple social contexts (6) over a long period: (7) a sense of mutuality in the
relationship (8) with the partner’s needs known and supported: (9) intimacy often bolstered by shared social
characteristics such as fender, socio-economics status, stage in the life cycle, and lifestyle. (Perlman and
Fehr 1987; Blumstein and Kollock 1988)

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       — Putong: No. That is impossible. I don’t think she is doing it. Even if she lies, I
           don’t want to know it forever. Our cities are too far, so maybe we can’t meet
           each other forever. However, I don’t care about it. I like the feeling that being
           cared by a girl. I enjoy this kind of romantic ties.

Through this dialogue, it shows, in fact, Putong still worries about the authenticity of
their relationship. However, he avoids thinking about it. Whether the girl lies to him, their
deep communication takes happiness to him. Giddens (1992) suggests that trust and
authenticity, or truthful and open self-revelation, are central to self-gratifying relations.
However it is obvious that in cyberspace, trust and authenticity is not central point. Lynn
(1998) suggests that “fun” is the central of teen chat room relationship, but it is also
obvious that for many people like Putong, “fun” is not the center. The center is that they
enjoy the experimental feeling of love and being loved. They would like to invest
emotion and enjoy the romantic and mysterious experiences. They don’t mind the sex and
money. To some extent, the “ pure relationship” impossibly exists in virtual world.

3.3 Real love in virtual space: the relationship between the virtual and the real.

I discuss “meet” with everybody I interviewed. “Meet” seems like a key word of Internet
love. Should the couples online meet in real life? How is their feeling when they meet? Is
she/he like the imagined person? Those questions are the most popular topics in kinds of
chat rooms and are discussed hotly by many Internet users. Many people look “meet” as a
borderline that make the real world and virtual world distinct.

       — Beast: I feel ambivalent. On one hand, I want to meet her. I feel curious what
           kind of a girl she is on earth. On the other hand, I am afraid to meet her. You
           know, human beings are special animals. Maybe after meeting, our feeling
           will disappear or thaw in the air. Let my beauty live in my heart forever!
       — Putong: I hope someday in future I can meet her, but it is not now. Future?
           Never think about it. Our emotion hasn’t future. I don’t care about how she
           looks like. The possibility is very small that we can stay together in real

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       — Chuan: I have played many roles online. I will never meet them. I don’t want
           to tell them “ sorry, you are cheated by me”. That is Internet; you can live like
           a person that you can’t be in the real.

Beast, Putong and Chuan set the whole process of love life that getting to know, falling in
love and dating in cyberspace. All of them have never met their partners in real world.
Beast even has no notion of meeting her. Can we conclude that their cyber-love is
isolated from the real? How do people understand the relationship between the two

       — Chuan: I have read a sentence at somewhere that Internet can give you
           everything except healthy and love. Internet provides a very good opportunity
           for people to hide the real identity. This covering technology meets people’s
           psychological needs of reveling in games. I have a very good girlfriend in the
           real life. I play enough game in the virtual space, so I don’t do it in the real.
       — Putong: Yes, that is a virtual space, but I am a real person. I can’t distinguish
           the two worlds very clearly. All the things we do are in cyberspace: cyber-
           smile, cyber-talk, cyber-cry, cyber-kiss…but the emotion is real. We promise
           to love for 50 years online. I believe we can realize it.
       — Beast: Both of us a middle school student. We are confronted with very heavy
           pressure to have the college entrance examination. We tell each other what
           happened around us and seek to comfort from each other. I don’t spend much
           time online everyday. We have deep communication in the virtual world, but
           in my heart, she is just like a very good friend together with me. I don’t feel
           far from her. Anyway, I don’t loss friends because of her in the school.

Some writers have expressed fears that high involvement in virtual community will move
people away from involvement in real-life communities that are sustained by face-to-
face, postal mail or telephone. From the talking with Chuan, Putong and Beast, I can’t
make conclution that this kind of fear is very essential. For one thing, like Chuan says,
Internet to some extent meets the people’s psychological needs of play games without
commitment. In real-life community, the behavior of people is always limited by many

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things, just like incumbency, duty, moral standard, public consensus and so on. However,
in cyberspace, it seems that you needn’t think about it too much. The communication
online is light-hearted, direct, fresh and abandoned. Internet provides people a place to do
the “bad” things they can’t do in real communities. Secondly, like Putong and Beast
saying, it is very difficult to divide their worlds into two discrete sets. Their relationship
seems not crazy. Their communication online disembroils some border and pressure in
real life. They two don’t loss friends because of their devoted communication in virtual

King’s survey of recovering addicts on electronic support groups reported that 58 percent
of respondents made contact with other Net acquaintances by phone, postal mail, or face-
to-face (King, 1994). That shows email is only one of multiple ways by which a
relationship is sustained. It is not an exclusive way of communication between lovers. So
the two worlds interact each other.

        — Dali: Sometimes, we talk by phone. But not often. Too expensive. We prefer
           to send email. Our emails are always written beautifully. If let me speak the
           sentences face-by-face, I can’t open my mouth. However, I can write. Internet
           sustains us expressing deep feeling to each other. We are building the basis of
           real-life love in virtual space.
        — Yue-yue: Although we love in real-life, we often send emails to each other or
           chat in Yahoo Massager. That is a good complementarity of our real-life. It
           makes our relationship more interesting and intimate.
        — Sophie: The process that we deeply understand each other builds through
           Internet. I feel a little bit nervous now because I will meet him in one month.
           He said he would give me a long kiss when he sees me in the airport. ^_^

The relationship of Dali and Sophie are principally sustained online, but are not
completely online. Although Yue-yue and her boyfriend love in real-life, they sometimes
contact online to strengthen their relationship. Therefore, people can’t divide the two
worlds very clearly. They don’t involve in one world totally and miss the other world.
The two worlds interact each other.

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In sum, the Internet supports a variety of community relationship, including some that are
close and intimate. There is a wide concern that whether the high involvement in virtual
community will move people away from involvement in real-life communities that are
sustained by face-to-face, postal mail or telephone. My argument is this kind of
possibility is not big. For one thing, Net to some extent meets the psychological needs of
play games without commitment in virtual time, thus the people like Chuan plays games
online, but not in real-life. Secondly, in practice, it is very difficult to divide two worlds
very clearly. Not all the intimate relationships of the people loving online sustained by
Internet. Some of them also communicate in real-life by telephone, fax or mail. It is
impossible to involved in the virtual world completely and forget the real world. The two
worlds interact each other. Most of interpersonal relationships of people are in real world.

3.4 Discussion

The limitation of this interview located in two perspectives. First, the sample is not large
enough. Because it is very difficult to find interviewees who would like to give personal
information to me, I can’t assure they can represent the people who have similar
background with them. If we could select the samples of a large number of people, we
can definitely get more valuable conclusion.

Second, I can’t avoid the disadvantages of the Internet interview. The person-to-person
interview is easy to be controlled according to our intention, but the interview online is
very difficult to do so. I hoped the interviewees to answer the questions I was interested
in, but the tool I can use to lead them is only text. So I wasted some time to get some
useless information, which might make me get less useful information.

This research about digital Eros is not easy to do, because people’s emotion is too
complex to explain clearly. In fact, this article doesn’t try to explain the complex intimate
and deep emotion of people; it just describes how people understand the Internet love in
cyberspace and how do they think the relationship between digital and real world,
especially the influence of virtual life on real life. I consider it as a very basic or general
study in the field of research on intimate relationship online. I don’t sort the people

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according to their different characteristics. In future research, I will do the in-depth
research apart on the basis of different sort of people.

                                     4. Conclusion

Networks have grabbed enormous public attention since 1993. More and more people put
a part of their social life into cyberspace. People’s interpersonal communication in
cyberspace is mainly by text. On one hand, it provides good opportunity for people to do
the in-depth communication; on the other hand, in order to protect themselves, people
limit their emotional investment in this virtual relationship. My argument is whereas all
the people looks the virtual community as a risk society with little authenticity, they think
the Net create and sustains the socially close, strong, intimate relationships in the people
of virtual community when people chat, set information, and find support on the Net. To
some of people, love experiences in cyberspace are just a game without commitment,
which meet some of their psychological needs of playing love games. They always play
different roles online. “Fun” is the core of their cyber-love relationships. However for
some other people, the feeling of “ happiness” during the process of virtual love is core.
Although they still have some worries about the virtual characteristic of Net world, they
would like to invest emotion and enjoy the romantic and mysterious experiences. They
don’t mind the sex and money. To some extent, the “ pure relationship” impossibly exists
in virtual world.

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From the interviews, I can’t conclude that many people put too high involvement in
virtual community up to move away from involvement in real-life community. On the
contrary, whether or not the people’s love life is completely online, they don’t look the
virtual life as their whole life. For some people, Internet is a good place to be a person
they can’t be or do the things they can’t do in real life. Just because virtual society meets
this kind of psychological meet of people, they don’t always do this kind of “bad” things
in real world. For some other people, Internet sustains their serious intimate relationship,
but this relationship doesn’t completely happen in virtual space. In fact, it is very difficult
to divide two worlds very clearly. Not all the intimate relationships of the people who
loving online are sustained by Internet, sometimes it is also sustained by telephone, fax or
mail. So most of people don’t think it is possible to involved in the virtual world
completely and forget the real world. The two worlds interact each other.

“ Come online to download a lover!” It has been a fashion in modern society. The digital
love is an outcome of new media era. We can’t attribute this complex phenomenon to
some simple explanation. What I do here is to describe how people understand digital
Eros and the cyber-love relationships. It is a very general research about the strong
emotion online; more study will be done in future work.

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                     R Bibliography R

Giddens, A. (1992). The transformation of intimacy: sexuality, love and eroticism in
  modern societies. Oxford: Polity Press

Bausinger, H. (1984) Media, technology and everyday life, Media. Culture and Society,

Blumstein, P. & Kollock. (1998). Personal Relationships. Annual Review of Sociology14:

Calhoun, C. (1998) Community without propinquity revisited: communications
  technology and the transformation of the urban public sphere. In Sociological Inquiry,
  68(3): 373-379

Hine, C. (1999) Virtual Ethnography. London: Sage

Hiltz, S. R. and Turoff, M.T. 1993. The Net Work Nation (2nd Edi). Cambridge, MA: MIT

H. Rheingold (1994) The virtual community: finding connection in a computerized world.
  London: Minerva

Jones, Steven. (1995). Understanding Community in the information Age. In Jones, S. &
   Oaks. T. (Edi). Cybersociety: Computer-Mediated Communication and Community.
   CA: Sage

Meyrowitz, J. (1985). No sense of place. Oxford: Oxford Press

Kochen, M. (Edi.). (1989).The Small World. Morwood, NJ: Ablex

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LivingStone, S. (1990). Making Sense of Television. Oxford: Pergamon Pres

McQuial, D. (2000). Mass Communication Theory, 4th Edition London: SAGE

Severin. J.W & Tankard, J.W. J. (2000). Communication Theories, Origins, Methods,
  and Uses in the Mass Media. New York: Addison Wesley Longman, Inc

Silverstone, R. (1994). Television and everyday life, London: Sage

Silverstone, R. (1999). Why study the media? London: Sage

King, S. (1994). Analysis of Electronic Support Groups For Recovering Addicts
  Interpersonal Computing And Technology 2(July): 47-56

Tambini,D. (1999). The civic networking movement, New Media and Society, 1(3)
Wellman, B. (1992).“ Which types of Ties and Networks Give What Kinds of Social
  Support?” Advances in Group Processes 207-35

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                              FAPPENDIX F

 Interview Guild
   1. Would you please introduce yourself? Name (if they like), gender, age, job, living place
      and education background etc.

   2. How many years have you used Internet? Normally, how many hours do you stay online
      everyday? What do you often do in cyberspace, reading news, play games or do
      something others?

   3.    Do you often visit chat rooms?
        Do you like chatting online? Why?
        Do you think many people lie online? How much percentage?

   4. Have you loved online?
         a. If no, how do you think about it? Can you understand it? Will you have a try to
             love in hyperspace? (Skip to the question 12)
         b. If yes, what is the experiences like?
   5. Have you met each other?
      Do you mind how he/she looks like?
      How do you keep your relation in cyberspace?

   6. Are you sure that you really love him/her? Why?

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      How do you think about or define “love”?
      Why are you sure your emotion is love, but not other feeling?

   7. Are you satisfied with your love life online? Why?
   8. Have you loved in real life? What is the difference between them? Which one do you
       prefer? Why?
   9. How do you think about your future? Do you very mind the end of your love? Why?
   10. What the influence do you think your love online on your real life?
   11. Is your digital love understood by your parents and friends? How do you think about it?
   12. Do you have some questions to ask me?

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