A Summary and Critique of Robert Epstein's "The Truth about Online Dating"
There are about 800 online dating services but only a handful of published scholarly articles that study them. In this paper, I argue that psychologist Robert Epstein’s “The Truth about Online Dating” (2007) is the best of these. I summarize Epstein’s findings, including how online dating presents situations in which the dater may create an “ideal” versus real self and why. I suggest that the phenomenon of constructing an ideal self online coincides with William S. Burroughs’ idea about one’s “terminal identity.” In his book Terminal Identity (1993), Scott Bukatman defines Burroughs’ idea and suggests that much of the science fiction published during the early stages of the age of the personal computer warned readers about a not too distant future in which all social interaction would occur through the medium of a computer, in which reality would become an extension of the mass media. Likewise, Epstein offers that the mainstreaming of online dating is changing the American psyche for the worse. I critique the article for its lack of discussion of the negative connotations of nationalism or the scientific illegitimacy that the terminology national psyche may present. Epstein does question the manipulative power of eHarmony. His few cheery paragraphs, which predict “the Future of Online Dating Looks Good,” throw his many gloomy ones, which highlight the “Somewhat Disturbing Findings,” into confusion. This mixed message about online communication has a scholarly precedent in psychologist Sherry Turkle’s Life on the Screen (1995), as Turkle theoretically fears and welcomes the “‘liminal moment’” at the boundary of real and virtual experience. Despite curiously positive takes, Epstein’s article signifies that online communication seems to be devaluing more than valuing authentic experience. In the spirit of liberalism, many theorists have taken such a strong stand against cynicism about the Internet that they have forgotten their skepticism. From this context, the power of marketing—the hype, as Epstein calls it—is leveled, and one may, I argue, take responsibility for his or her life and chose his or her own identity as online dater or not.
Keywords: Americaan Studies, Technology and Culture, Online Dating, Online Communication, Media Manipulation
Dr. Will Clemens
Assistant Professor, English, Humanities and Social Sciences, University of Cincinnati