Divorce Rate

The divorce rate in the U.S. is among the highest in the world, at 4.5 per 1,000 population; in most nations the rate is under 3.0 per 1,000 (United Nations 1999). Whatever its causes, the relatively high divorce rate in the U.S. creates a relatively large population of single people in mid-life, sometimes with children at home — certainly young enough to seek another life partner, but often too busy with children or career to spend much time broadening their social circles to find other single people. This population might represent a significant portion of the boom in people using online dating systems who are older than typical computer-mediated communication

A Reciprocal Relationship with Culture

Social technologies are rarely neutral with respect to the interactions that take place through them. By their form and function, they affect the way their users communicate. Gay and Hembrooke (2004) propose an ecological extension of activity theory to "describe and account for the transformative power of seemingly ubiquitous artifacts such as language and pervasive computing devices":

"Mutual accommodations among system elements shape the relationship among these components, which is interdependent. Changes in any part of a system or among contextual levels have the potential to affect any or all of the other related systems Activities such as technology construction should not be perceived as statically structured entities but rather as dynamic processes that are characterized by ambiguity and change."

(Gay and Hembrooke 2004)

The designer of a personals system chooses to emphasize (both visually and algorithmically) some characteristics more than others. These decisions affect users' perceptions of what is important in others they see on the site. More broadly, I believe the choice of characteristics of people to emphasize in an online dating system has a reciprocal relationship with cultural notions of love and attraction (Figure 1.1).

As a suddenly popular way to meet partners for dates or relationships, online personals not only reflect but also have the potential to shape how people attract one another, date, and fall in love. The design of social systems influences the beliefs and behavior of their users; the features of a person that Match.com presents as salient to romance will begin to have some psychological and cultural influence if tens of millions of Americans view them every month. This influence would exert itself most strongly on the users themselves, but it could also spread into the general population.

Users will perceive a system as more efficacious if its design highlights the characteristics of others that are truly

Figure 1.1. The reciprocal relationship hypothesized between culture and online dating systems.

Figure 1.1. The reciprocal relationship hypothesized between culture and online dating systems.

salient to the user (rather than being salient to the technical architecture of the system, or just arbitrary).

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