Webb of Love, Webb of Lies

I’m the first to admit that I love myself some serious gossip…Not in a snide, “mean girls” way, but more in an “interested in stories, human psychology, and people” way. (That, at least, is how I rationalize my hours of micro-analyzing the trials and tribulations of the love lives of all my friends, family, acquaintances  and night-time soap operas).

In my hours of furtively leaning over coffee listening to friends spill about their latest, bad first dates, I’ve noticed some changes that texting, online dating, and the infamous “Facebook stalking” have wrought in the world of courtship. People’s networks have expanded beyond the local church or family friends (for more info about social trends expanding our circles of acquaintances  check out Networked) to include friends of friends via Facebook and Google+ and a slew of dating websites that promise the feed your personal information into a scientifically-proven love-finding algorithm. Technology has changed the game of romantic relationships, making it easier to meet large volumes of people without making it easier to find the elusive One. As one of my friends put it, “online dating just means I get twice as many dates with crazy people.” Meanwhile, the internet also allows for an initial intimacy (via text, email, and other online media) that doesn’t always translate to real-life intimacy.

Amy Webb’s new book Data: A Love Story explores the CEO and generally type-A author’s personal quest to sift through the millions of duds online to attract the attention of the few studs looking for a mate. The book, on the surface, is a story of the extreme measure Webb goes to in order to discover the patterns of behavior underlying online dating behavior and to modify her own self-presentation and behavior to attract a suitable mate. In a larger sense, the book explores modern dating dynamics, the immense impact of word and photo choice in impacting first impressions online, and the plight of finding love if you’re a high-powered professional woman. Excerpts and articles about the book are blowing up the internet (see this long but fascinating excerpt or this short but succinct article by the author).

The author has come under some criticism for the utilitarian perspective she takes on online dating. She lies about her height, for example, and represents herself in what some would call a dishonest way in order to attract more page views. She resists the urge to post detailed information about her incredible career and downplays her success in order to be intimidating  And in doing so, she lands a husband. So is that what it takes to find love– you have to lie in order to find The One? Or do Webb’s omissions and little white lies constitute dishonesty?

Data at least opens the door for more conversation about online dating behavior patterns, the role of advertising strategies in attracting online suitors, and the shifting social plan in this data-driven society.