The digital path of how love, passion, dating, even just getting to know each other, follow on a parallel historic line with the advancement, growth and social metamorphosis into a connected, online society.
Let’s talk about passion. People are passionate about music. Whether the economy is good or bad, music persists.
39 years ago the Sony Walkman introduced a small handheld device* and with it, the portability of music. What joy this brought to many! At first its detractors quickly derided its fans as ‘tweens and teenagers listening to teenybopper music, chewing gum and snapping their fingers to hit songs of the day (“oh, those kids!”). “They’re-anti social!” people complained, “They run around with those headphones on and don’t communicate with each other!” Sound familiar? Hello, smart phone complaints, decades later.
But this characterization lost its derogatory luster as others grokked the value of a lightweight device and headphones. Bible study and religious content became popular Walkman content. Business presentations, well before the day of PowerPoint and easily accessible, ubiquitous video, could be listened to over and over. Coaches and lifestyle gurus found a new marketing tool. Educators found a new study resource.
One might think of it in modern day terms as an early stage wearable.
Suddenly the Walkman was everywhere. Since the July 1979 introduction Sony has sold 385 Million Walkmans globally.
Another reason for the widespread success was Sony’s invention of the extremely lightweight, compact H-AIR headphones that came with the Walkman. Headphones of the day had usually weighed 300 to 400 grams. The Sony H-AIR headphones were just below 2 ounces (a mere 50 grams), with equal, if not better, sound quality. And far more comfortable.
People loved their Walkmans. Music (and other content) became portable. Music or other content could be traded, gifted, in some cases even sold. Cassette sales went up.
Fast forward 20 years from the Walkman to the dawn of the age of connectivity. Beepers converged with email and the result was the Blackberry. Email, text messages, a calendar, an extension of your office, of your online life. It paved the way for PDAs. But those early Blackberries were special. Addictive. People loved their Blackberries. They were small lightweight devices. Some wore them on a belt, on a holster or carried it in a purse. Within a few years the Blackberry transformed into a phone, with internet access, music, video and other features.
Then 10 years ago the iPhone arrived with apps, all the same features as the Blackberry but a far better user experience. If the Blackberry was an intelligent phone, the iPhone was the truly Smart phone.
Again, it was found in pockets, on belts, in purses, and in holsters. Android phones followed, and now everyone, it seems, has a smartphone. To say people now love their smartphones is an understatement.
But all of that is love of devices. Love of music portability, then apps and email, messaging and phone calls. What about human interaction? Where’s that passion?
Again, a little history. A long time ago in newspapers and magazines there were classified ads. At some point there began to be “personal ads.” In modern times this became a euphemism for wanting to find someone to date. In its origin it was far more domestic in intent. fact one of the early personal ads, placed in a Manchester newspaper by a woman on 1727, landed her in an insane asylum for a month. And she was seeking a husband, not a date!
By the 1960s it was not uncommon for local and regional magazines to run personal ads. There was some degree of stigma about them, comedy routines poked fun at them, but yet they proved to have a measure of success.
And then in the mid-1980s, personals found their way to the Internet. Compuserve, The Well, Prodigy, Echo, BitNet, Genie and other online services offered various forms of regional or areas of common interest personal ads. You could meet someone nearby, or someone who shared your passion for a hobby or pop culture topic . . . or perhaps both.
AOL buys Compuserve, many of the other services fade away. The web becomes more browser-based with websites, blogs, and independent, more individual and personal use of computers and web surfing takes over from the AOLs and Compuserves of the recent past.
Enter personals in a new form: dating sites, matchmaking sites, hookup sites.
The early ones do remarkably well. The traffic is high, they sell to larger companies for vast sums. Fast forward to the smartphone era with its apps and websites. A decade or more ago there was some stigma still. Eyebrows were raised, “Oh, you met on the web?” But time, the pervasiveness of the web, and the digital reality of communications in the connected era washed away the stigma.
In much the manner that the Walkman at first was decried as a teenybopper’s escape from human interaction, then was interwoven into society, personals, or dating apps, are now the norm. Tinder, OK Cupid, Match.com, Zoosk, and eHarmony are the well known services. OurTime.com and Senor People Meet are exclusively for the 50+ crowd. For those who want a religion oriented service, there are J-Date and Christian Mingle, among others. Ethnic sites exist: BlackPeopleMeet.com, Filipinocupid.com, Amigos.com, and a host of ethnic types and variations. There are sites for Australians living in the US, and almost any country of origin. Dating sites exist for speakers of various languages. There are LGBTQ sites. People with certain prurient proclivities can also find dating sites. There's one or many more for just about every group imaginable. And, of course, there’s the ever so infamous Ashley Madison site, for extramarital assignations.
Many online dating services allow users to become members. Membership means they may create a profile, uploading their personal information. This varies from site to site, but generally includes age, gender, sexual orientation, geographic location, and a photo. Members can view the profiles of other members, to decide if they wish to initiate contact. Through the site (or app) services offer notification of many kinds. Most common are messaging, email, or an alert when they next visit the site or app.
The preponderance of dating sites speaks to the success and acceptance of online matchmaking. Now, when the answer to the question, “How did you two meet?” is, “We met online,” there are no more raised eyebrows or snickers.
And then there’s Social Media. Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest lead the pack in offering the ability to express a “like” or press a heart icon to express love. The flow of status post, comments, responses to pictures and the like enable friends or followers to express like, love, or passion. Ardent fans unite and share affection, devotion, fondness, excitement, in Facebook groups or on Twitter threads. These are Digital Communities, united by common bonds, common interests, common loves and common passion. And this occurs via the connectedness we enjoy in the Digital Age.
Correction: The Passionate Digital Age.
Please include his footnote!
*The hand held Dictaphone predated the Sony Walkman as a small, portable device.
Dean Landsman is a NYC-based Digital Strategist who writes a monthly column for PR for People “The Connector.”