February 12, 2014 10:10 am
Updated: February 12, 2014 10:33 am

Digital valentines: Modern love and mobile phones

Volunteers are distributing 500 roses to the Montreal General Hospital nurses.


Today the velocity, accessibility, and immediacy of digital culture is changing expectations for communication between family members, friends, and romantic partners. Modern love is especially complicated by the constant connectivity of ever-present smartphones and social networks. In an age of virtual matchmaking and cyber courtship then, romance is at once enhanced, hastened, and potentially jeopardized.

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This Valentine’s Day if you’re one of the many connected Canadians planing to send a romantic text message or e-card to your significant other, consider picking up flowers and candy too. Research shows that when it comes to Valentine’s Day the old standbys (think, dinner-for-two) are more likely to resonate emotionally than standalone heartfelt expressions of the virtual kind.

At Brigham Young University when researchers asked young people about the role of technology in their love lives, they found an undeniable correlation between frequent texting and relationship dissatisfaction. Males and females agreed that while digital technologies surely do bring people together, they also frequently cause relationship damage. For guys specifically, too-frequent texts were a sure-fire relationship-killer.

In the UK at University of Essex, researchers found that mobile phones change the way lovers communicate, shaping the things we say to each other — often leading to frustrating miscommunications between partners, especially when IM or texts are used to broach serious issues, discuss personally meaningful topics, or for settling disagreements.

Long distance relationships are one exception to this rule. Researchers at Cornell confirmed that for lovebirds located remotely, communicating through digital media is a very effective way of getting closer. In their experiment, couples using video chat, email, IM, and SMS to bridge long distances developed genuine intimacy, relationship stability, satisfaction, and trust via digital self-disclosures.

Ideally, whether in geographic proximity or not, partners sharing a virtual stream of intimate disclosures would experience the kind of digital chemistry that converts to romance in reality. And frequently, they do. On the other hand, social and mobile media can sabotage romantic relationships, whether due to incessant Facebook creeping, Instagram jealousy, oversharing and revenge posting, or the emotional vacuity of sms breakups. Bottom line? It’s complicated.

As our high-tech-enabled modern love rituals evolve, more digitally savvy love-seekers will try their hand at online dating and cyberflirting, the instant gratification of Tinder and Snapchat, and maybe jump on the couple selfies (#couplies) trend. And if this Valentine’s Day is anything like it was in 2013, we’ll see Cupid work his magic on Facebook — which last year saw a 200 per cent leap in notifications from friends suddenly “in a relationship” on February 14th.

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