Spokeo Blog

Sex, Lies, and Online Dating

Written by October 12, 2010

Safeguarding Your Love Life – Part 3

One interesting, if bizarre, trend worth keeping an eye on in the world of online dating is "virtual dating." Virtual dating is an almost sci-fi like, futuristic-feeling hybrid that takes a novel approach to digital matchmaking by combining online dating with online gaming. It allows daters to use avatars to interact with one another in a virtual setting resembling a real-life dating environment without actually meeting.

In the ‘Science Channel’ video, “PopSci’s Future Of: Virtual Dating,” Ravit Abelman, co-founder of Omnidate, Inc. explains: “The current challenge in online dating for singles is, how do you get to know the person behind the profile?” Virtual dating helps “you interact with your date, and in a way get to know the person behind a profile, then make the call.”

Virtual dating is indeed different. In fact, some might argue surreally so. Unlike “traditional” online dating where an interested party might spend hours perusing pages of two-dimensional, cookie-cutter profiles only to potentially end up wasting even more time and money on awkward or unsuccessful dates, virtual dating attempts to bypass all of that. It aims to streamline the unwieldy process by letting potential daters (or their alter egos) interact with one another instead. Rather than leaf through mind-numbing catalogs of lifeless profiles, seekers are deftly transported into colorful and active virtual environments such as coffee shops, restaurants or bars. And, for a generation that was virtually weaned on video games, the transition is not all that outrageous.

The online daters begin their virtual mingling by first selecting an avatar – a graphical, quasi-3D image which they believe represents them best. Next they choose a prospective “date” – the person they would like to “meet.” Once they extend an invitation and ask that person to “go out,” the date in turn must accept their invitation before an actual meeting can take place. If he or she agrees, the program then randomly selects an environment for the date. The pair could, for example, meet and chat in a romantic virtual cafe in Paris, perhaps in a bar in Manhattan, or even on a Caribbean resort.

Some programs are equipped with extra features such as virtual emoticons which allow avatars to express feelings approximating those they might express on a real date. The idea is to try to humanize the experience as much as possible. For instance, if in the course of the virtual date a person types “LOL,” their 3D avatar visibly and audibly laughs. If they hit a “FLIRT” button their date knows that things are heating up. If there is a long awkward silence, an avatar can YAWN. The avatar can even reach over and touch their virtual date’s hand.

There are games dates can play to help break the ice as well. All of which ultimately lead up to the “KISS” permission button. It doesn’t take a whole lot of imagination to see where all of this is headed. Abelman predicts that as technology advances, one will likely be able to do almost anything online that they could do in real life.

Interestingly, researchers at MIT and Harvard found that "people who had a chance to interact with each other (by computer only) on a virtual tour of a museum, subsequently had more successful face-to-face meetings than people who had viewed only profiles”   “It’s the next huge wave,” Ms Kabani noted in the Fox News 4 Interview (Sex, Lies, and Online Dating – Part 2.) Facebook already has “applications, like ‘Social Connect’ that let you create certain avatars and interact with someone before you go out on a real date.”

Whether online dating, or the straightforward old-fashioned way is one’s preferred approach, in the Fox News interview, Kabani reminds viewers that, “A key thing to remember is that on any of those social networking sites there is absolutely no privacy. Anything you put out there you pretty much should consider it akin to being up on a billboard.”

While privacy controls on social-networking sites may vary, one thing remains certain: Using social networks and people-search sites like Spokeo to learn more about a prospective date before taking things further is an excellent habit to get into. Though online research may not be foolproof, it is no doubt a valuable precautionary measure that can help bolster one’s safety in uncertain social situations and support safe dating.

But what, if any, new dating trends are cropping up on the digital horizon? Is virtual dating really as far as it goes, or is technology offering a glimpse at any new developments that build upon our fundamental need for social interaction and the urge to connect? If virtual dating seemed a tad unorthodox what comes next might blow the mind. It’s a brave new world, and new technology appears to be heading in directions that could even make Stanley Kubrick fans do a double take. TO BE CONTINUED…

1 The Truth about Online Dating: Scientific American


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