It all started with a Cal Poly hashtag.
A few months ago, anthropology and geography senior Paige Hernandez uploaded a picture of the beach to Instagram with “#calpoly” in the description. Among the likes and comments from local friends, a Cal Poly alumnus living abroad had commented on her photo and said he was jealous of her and missed going to his alma mater, she said.
During the next several months, the two would comment on and like each other’s photos. Then they began to message online, and eventually got each other’s phone numbers and now text and occasionally Skype from across the Atlantic Ocean.
“I definitely still have a guard up when I talk to him because basically I’m still talking to a stranger, because we have never met,” she said. “He’s not being creepy or aggressive like most college guys are. He’s trying to be a good friend to me and he wants to keep finding out who I am, and maybe meet up one day.”
Hernandez’s connection, sparked via Web communication, is not an unprecedented case.
Millennials often converse through screens rather than face-to-face. A recent New York Times article examined how most of the initial stages in relationships of getting to know one another are developed within some kind of technology. In fact, a survey of young people in America found that 38 percent would cancel a date because of something found during online research, 28 percent said they’d dated someone they met online and 48 percent of women and 38 percent of men had researched a date on Facebook before meeting.
Hernandez said Web interactions are an OK way to start making a connection with somebody, but she personally wouldn’t rely solely on technology, the Internet, Instagram or Facebook to foster a relationship.
“It’s a good start to provide common ground and a safe way to talk to someone, but eventually you’re going to have to meet and develop a relationship in person,” Hernandez said.
Mostly, interacting through technology allows people to circumvent conflict. Hernandez said texting becomes a crutch to say things when she’s upset, or for other people to send her messages that share emotions and feelings, she said. It’s easy to be guarded when texting somebody because emotions aren’t exchanged face-to-face.
“When I’m upset with someone and tell them my feelings in a text message, that person has the ability to not respond, or they can send a message saying we can talk once I cool down,” she said. “Essentially, you are just getting out of the situation because you know you can; the conversation is just swept under the rug.”
Assistant psychology professor Jason Williams said there are two reasons why people like communication via text message versus face-to-face: first, it reduces anxiety, and second, it allows for time to craft exactly what the user wants to say.
Conversations through technology allow for a low level of risk, he said. It deflects anxiety and gives people the opportunity to write with a lot of ambiguity. For instance, someone can invite another person on a date, but bury the invitation in the message so much so that the person on the other end isn’t sure if they have really been asked out, he said.
“You can craft a persona more easily to what you think someone will be attracted to,” Williams said. “If you have time to think of a lie, you’re going to do it.”
Williams said it is interesting that the tools used to help people communicate more actually result in people communicating less. Messages are direct and to the point, so impromptu conversations rarely evolve during non face-to-face interactions, he said.
“They limit the scope of interactions to get what information people want,” Williams said. “We lose incidental interactions to talk about real things. Efficiency may not be the best for interactions.”
Cell phones and the Internet are not just a common place to socialize once a person has met someone, but are also frequently used to meet for the first time.
Business administration senior Tyler Prone uses the dating app Tinder. Tinder is a flirtatious app that connects user profiles through Facebook. Tinder profiles have a capacity of up to five pictures, along with a short written profile. The simple interface allows users to view other users’ profiles. If the user finds that profile unappealing, a quick swipe to the left and the words “Nope” are splatted onto the picture. A swipe to the right means a profile is liked. If both users end up liking each others’ profiles, a chat room is opened where the two can message and meet up.
Prone was showing the app to some friends at a party when he came across the profile of a girl who was standing in the same room.
“I knew of her and I thought it was hilarious, and her pictures were kind of revealing, so I walked over and said I liked her Tinder pics,” Prone said. “She laughed, but at the same time she seemed kind of embarrassed.”
However, Prone did not feel a spark with the woman when they met in person, he said. Generally, Prone dislikes using social media to meet people because they are devices to make people look cooler than they really are, he said.
“It’s a great way to break the ice, but it’s a little odd,” he said. “It’s all very superficial and for aesthetics, especially for dating and looks. And because I know this, it’s hard for me to take social media seriously.”
While it’s easy to whip a phone out of the pocket and fire off messages to serenade a potential lover, some students still thrive on human interaction.
Economics senior David Silveira said he has no excuse to not meet women in a traditional, in-person way.
Face-to-face introductions are a lost art, he said. People rely heavily on social media and electronic communication and no one knows how to approach someone and engage in a conversation and look people in the eye.
“Everyone is hesitant to say things or afraid to look and sound stupid, but you can send a text message to say whatever you want,” Silveira said. “It’s kind of like taking advantage of the system.”
Anxiety and stress are normal feelings when trying to get to know someone, Silveira said. People should be feeling these emotions and need to deal with them, but people want to rely on social media, drugs or alcohol, he said.
“College in itself is a real life social networking site,” Silveira said. “You have so much opportunity to meet people, the classrooms, house parties and the downtown scene — take advantage of what’s in front of your face.”
Women’s and gender studies professor Jane Lehr argues that exchanging messages through technology allows people to take preemptive steps before initiating conversations, but pre-meditated actions prior to meeting a potential suitor are not a new thing. Someone can be very conscious of the clothes they are wearing and the things they will say before meeting someone in person to convey a certain identity, she said.
“It’s inaccurate to think face-to-face is pure interaction,” Lehr said. “We are always trying to position ourselves and constructing different pathways for people to get to know us.”
Lehr said people can fall in love over email exchanges or video chatting through Skype, but finding a potential long-term relationship is not the norm of how technology is used today.
“Managing what you want to know, the types of material and information people end up exposing, it changes disclosure,” she said. “Basically, you are fully disclosed when you add somebody as a friend. But it’s also a really fantastic opportunity to be playful and to explore and engage with people.”
Facebook allows a person who’s been accepted as a friend to delve into all of the personal information someone presents on their profile, Lehr said. This amount of unexposed and free information about a person is a unique attribution to dating in the 21st century.
“The meditation isn’t different, but rather the levels of information and the amount of control,” Lehr said. “We are losing control.”
Editor’s Note: The original article identified Paige Hernandez’s major as anthropology and geology. It is actually anthropology and geography. We apologize for any confusion.