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智能手机时代的网络交友:天使还是魔鬼?

JP Mangalindan 2011年05月17日

交友网站、社交网络、移动设备——甚至汽车,这些本来是让人们用于沟通的工具,现在却以一种既新鲜又熟悉的方式,让我们在面对其他单身男女时变得冷漠无情。

    作为一名科技作家,我对科技企业的创新速度感到很震惊。15年前,互联网使用的还是56K的调制解调器,那时说起高质量的流媒体视频内容,不啻于痴人说梦。10年前,社交图谱的力量在很大程度上还未得到开发,因为当时主流的社交网站甚至还没有诞生。就在5年前,移动电话的体验还主要以奔迈(Palm)、黑莓和所谓的“直板手机”为主,它们也只是大略揭示了未来手机的发展方向——也就是今天我们认为理所当然的以液晶触屏和应用程序为主的手机体验。科技在很多方面都推动了我们的生活,不过只有一个方面,我不确定科技是否真的帮了我们的忙——那就是恋爱。

    我的一位好朋友(这里不妨叫她“凯瑟琳”)建议我看看2011款雪佛兰科鲁兹(Chevy Cruze)轿车的广告。这支广告强调道,这款紧凑型轿车能够为驾驶者“实时更新信息”。在广告里,这款轿车的拥有者与一个女孩子第一次约会。约会结束后,他可以立刻看到那个女孩子的Facebook状态。所以当那个女孩子更新了她的状态时(“有史以来最好的初次约会!”),他在几分钟内就能知道。凯瑟琳说,这支广告让人的心情非常沉重,并不是由于广告本身,而是由于广告中的概念——科技(在这个案例中即为高度的互联性)正在慢慢侵蚀一些对我们来说十分重要的事情——恋爱的神秘感和惊喜感。

    克鲁兹的这个广告虽然有点让人伤感,不过它让我开始思考,科技在我们生活的有形方面扮演了多大的角色。现在很多人仍然以传统的方式和大多数亲朋好友会面,不过也有许多人通过网络进行社交。牛津大学最近的一份研究显示,三分之一的网民都曾访问过在线交友网站。Match.com是一家领先的在线交友服务网站,该网站声称已有160万会员,而且去年的营收达到了4亿美元。该网站还声称,现在每6对婚姻里,就至少有一对是通过网络认识的。此外每5对固定的男女朋友关系里,就有一对是通过网络交友认识的。

科技破坏了恋爱的发现过程

    在某些方面,Match.com这样的交友网站让择偶变得极为容易,这对于网站自身和上网择偶的人来说并不是坏事。不过网站上的每个人都被简化成了一张照片,就像一本年鉴一样,每一页都是人的脸,让人不大容易把他们当人看待,而是觉得他们更像一种唾手可得的商品。许多人(包括我自己在内)可能没有办法只靠一张照片、一两句自我介绍就能将自己推销出去。他们需要获得一些能够突出自身品格的机会。在相亲和交友上,只靠一张照片,是不可能把一切都交待清楚的。

    海量的照片容易使吹毛求疵的人把注意力放在别人身体的“小缺陷”上,从而把一个人更快地否定掉。这人有谢顶的兆头?不喜欢。那人的牙齿不太整齐?还是算了吧……此外交友网站也很少鼓励用户写下一些有创造性的个人信息,用户最多只是写写自己的好恶。要是你写上自己喜欢密雪儿、喜欢用十字绣绣猫咪,喜欢给小猫起名叫查太莱夫人……那么对方八成会敬谢不敏。

    尽管我知道我并不是唯一一个这样想的人,不过我还是想知道,我会不会因为想着下一页里可能有更好看、更聪明、更幽默的人等着我,而忽略了某个可能和我产生化学反应的人。我的父母性格很相像,他们正好违反了“异性相吸”那句老话。如果20世纪80年代就有交友网站的话,他们可能根本就不会见面。

    科技给人们提供了一层距离感,并可以让人们匿名交友,这种感觉是人们在其它地方体验不到的,而这反过来又影响了人们的礼节。虽然我们的照片可能挂在了网上,但我们的联系方式却并不是人人可见。如果一个人在酒吧里搭讪被拒绝了,他可能感到大失面子。不过如果你在交友网站上拒了某个人,你就不必担心会伤害到他的感情。另一方面,交友网站起码在一开始没有真实的人际互动,因此交友网站上的人往往真实得近乎残忍。在交友网站“OK丘比特”上,一个我很感兴趣的人对我回复道:“噢,天哪,没门儿!”这句话杀伤力之大,足以让我泪奔到本地的7-11便利店,买上一品脱的哈根达斯冰淇淋,以治疗我心灵上的创伤。

    除此之外,还有越来越多的人通过谷歌搜索引擎来“人肉”他们从网上认识的准男友或准女友。当然,我们有必要弄清楚我们的约会对象不是“黑寡妇”或者“开膛手杰克”。不过我们的好奇心如此强烈,往往会导致我们把约会对象调查个底儿朝天。这本来是个背景调查,但有时搜着搜着就有意外发现。与此同时,现在越来越多的人喜欢在约会前后把好消息通报给Facebook上的朋友们。这种做法似乎不大成熟,因为两个人还是有可能会分道扬镳的。

分手2.0

    由于通讯渠道和通讯设备的日新月异,分手也变得比以往更加容易。我曾见过有朋友在约会开始的五分钟之前发短信取消约会,也见过同事通过Facebook的信息宣布分手,然后双方开始铺天盖地地在网上发难听的话——这就相当于21世纪版的餐馆分手大战。此外我的一些朋友也接到过错字连篇的分手短信,一看就是草草发出的:“很抱歉这样做,虽然你很好,但我们不合适。祝你好运。”于是我就得带着这些朋友出去买醉疗伤。

    显然,人们藏身科技之后,是为了尽量避免面对面做这种尴尬的事。我深知这一点。我曾经接到过这样的信息,也曾懦弱地写过一两次这样的电子邮件:“你是一个很出色、很好的人,不过我们都知道,维系一段好的恋爱关系需要一种化学反应,但我感觉不到我们之间有这种化学反应……毫无疑问,你会让另外某个人非常幸福的。”(这可不是我最骄傲的时刻)

    交友网站Chemistry.com提供了一种“分手功能”。如果你通过该网站和约会对象见了面,但对对方并不是很满意,那么你可以在线填写一份反馈表。如果对方也这样做了,那么他们就会收到一条标准化的分手消息,告诉他们另觅他人。这比永远不和对方联络好一些,不过也好不了多少。这就好比你在酒吧里被人搭讪,你给了对方一个“办证”的电话——这样一来,假号码就帮你办了这件不光彩的事。

    当然,现代人爱情生活的失败,不能完全归咎到这些服务和设备上。Match.com也好,Facebook和智能手机也好,它们只是工具,归根结底,它们的目的是为了使生活更加便捷。事实上成功的故事也有很多,许多情侣都可以作证,他们都把科技称为21世纪的丘比特。(他们没有说谎。我的一位朋友就是在MySpace上找到了情投意合的伴侣。)

    不过,尽管现在科技已经如此便捷,甚至我们通过一张照片,或网站个人说明中的某个古怪的爱好,就可以将某个人否定掉;或是发一条不到50个字的信息就可以和对方分手;又或舒舒服服地坐在新款雪佛兰轿车里,就可以追踪情人的状态,但我们仍然有责任在恋爱里表现得更加得体些,不论在网上还是在网下都是如此。

    译者:朴成奎

    As a tech writer, I'm impressed by the industry and the rate at which companies innovate. Fifteen years ago streaming high-quality video content was a pipe dream squeezed by the reality of 56K modems; the power of the social graph remained largely untapped a decade ago because mainstream social networks simply didn't exist to tap it; and as recently as five years ago, the mobile experience hosted by Palms, BlackBerries, and "candy bar" phones only hinted at the fluid, touchscreen-optimized, app-driven experience we take for granted today. Tech pushes us forward on multiple fronts, but there's one area I'm not sure it's helped much, and that's romance.

    A good friend -- let's call her "Kathleen" -- suggested I check out a TV spot for the 2011 Chevy Cruze that highlights the compact car's delivery of "real-time updates" to the driver. In the commercial, the car's owner had instant access to his date's Facebook Newsfeed, so when she updated her status ("Best first date ever!"), he knew within minutes. Kathleen argued the commercial was heart-sinkingly awful -- not because of its premise but the notion that technology, in this case hyper-connectivity, was eroding an element that matters to many of us -- the mystery and serendipity that often goes with dating.

    While the Cruze ad was schmaltzy, it got me thinking about how big a role technology now plays even in this, um, corporeal aspect of our lives. A good chunk of people still meet significant others the old-fashioned way, but many of us now turn online for help. A recent study conducted by the University of Oxford reports that nearly one in three Internet users have visited an online dating site, while one of the leading online dating services, Match.com, which claims nearly 1.6 million subscribers and raked in $400 million in revenues last year, claims that online dating now accounts for at least one in six marriages and one in five committed relationships.

Wreaking havoc on the discovery process

    In some ways Match makes it incredibly easy for users to be choosy -- not a bad thing in and of itself -- but people are presented like they're stock photos in a yearbook, with pages upon pages of faces that make it incredibly easy for daters to treat them less like human beings and more like easy commodities. Many – myself included – may need the opportunity to highlight our personalities beyond a small pic and one or two initially viewable sentences. In the case of dating and finding a match, a photo simply does not and can not say it all.

    This nouveau romantic discovery process encourages those of us with the Seinfeldian ability to fixate on the smallest physical "flaw" to write someone off even quicker. Receding hairline? Meh. Slightly crooked teeth? Pass. When it comes to the personal information people do put down, dating sites rarely encourage any sort of creativity, beyond listing likes and dislikes. Loves Joni Mitchell, cat embroidery designs and kittens named Lady Chatterley? No, thanks.

    And while I know I'm not alone in thinking along these lines, I wonder whether I end up overlooking people I'd have in-person chemistry with simply because someone hotter, smarter and funnier might be on the next Web page. Because I'm pretty sure if online dating had existed back in the 1980s, my parents -- who validate the old adage "opposites attract" to a tee -- would never had met.

    Tech offers people a layer of distance and anonymity in dating they can't find elsewhere, which in turn affects etiquette. Even if our photos are up there, our contact information isn't. We don't have to worry about the consequences of hurting someone's feelings the same way we would if we were picking up someone up at a bar. The lack of actual in-person interaction, at least initially, emboldens online daters to be ruthlessly honest. On OKCupid, one person I was interested in sweetly replied, "EW, GOD. NEVER," which was enough to send me to the local 7-Eleven for a pint of Haagen Daaz to nurse my bruised ego.

    People are also increasingly doing their research with Google search. Sure, we want to check that we're not about to spend our evening with a black widow or Jack the Ripper, but sheer curiosity also means we'll research the heck out of these dates, to the point where it's essentially a background search, sapping serendipity out of the discovery process. Meanwhile, more and more people Facebook Friend their dates right after or even before meeting them -- which seems a tad premature given things may not work out.

Dumping 2.0

    Dumping has quite simply never been easier, thanks to the proliferation of communication channels and devices. I've seen friends stood up via text five minutes before the date was supposed to start, observed college break-ups via Facebook message followed by ugly Wall-to-Wall conversations -- the 21st century equivalent of public blowout at a restaurant -- and I've taken friends out for conciliatory drinks after they've received fanciful texts like, "sory 2 do this but its not werking out. ur great tho. good luck."

    People clearly hide behind technology to avoid doing the deed face-to-face. I know this, having been on the receiving end, and having spinelessly done it once or twice myself with emails like: "You're a brilliant, kind person, but I didn't feel the chemistry you and I both know are required to make a relationship great. … No doubt, you will make someone very happy." (Not my proudest moment.)

    The dating site Chemistry.com offers what amounts to a dumping feature for "First Meetings," or first dates arranged through the service. Say you're just not that into them: fill out some feedback online, and once your date does the same, they get a standard cookie-cutter message telling them to move on. Better than never getting back to them at all, but not by much. The feature is sort of the modern-day equivalent of giving someone you were talking to in a bar the number from the dry-cleaner awning across the street -- the wrong number does the dirty work for you.

    Of course, all these services and devices aren't solely to blame for our modern-day misadventures. Match, Facebook, and that nifty smartphone are just tools -- means to ends -- intended to make life easier. As many couples will attest, they have: success stories abound, crediting technology in one way or another as their 21st century Cupid. (They don't lie. One of my friends found her soul mate on MySpace.)

    But the responsibility still falls on us to act decently, online and in person, even when it's now become possible to write someone off based on a thumbnail photo or quirky hobby; to dump someone in 50 characters or less; or to stalk a person from the comfort of our snazzy new Chevrolet.

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