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Digital Love: Technology and Privacy

Do you have a smart phone?  Are you tweeting and checking in, or do you stick to tagging pictures and updating your status?  If you counted your number of contacts in your phone or online, what would your number be?  If you’re a college kid, chances are pretty good that you are using multiple forms of technology to socialize everyday… and to gather research for term papers, of course.
Our generation relies on technology to
understand the world and to engage in it.  But what effect do our hard-wired tendencies have on our interpersonal interactions, especially in romantic relationships?  What level of privacy should we expect or demand when information is just a click away?

Recently, a friend of mine met an attractive and mysterious man at an art gallery.  She got his digits (way to go, girl), but did not learn Tall Dark and Handsome’s last name.  Naturally, when she told me about her chance encounter and lack of identifying information, we were both bummed that we couldn’t effectively cyber-stalk her cutie.  So much for that Google search and Facebook reconnaissance mission I had already planned.
Whether we want to admit it or not, search engines and social networking sites often play a critical role in the beginning of a relationship nowadays.  During the “pre-dating” phase, we want information.  And we want it now.  How else will we know if this potential significant other is a good catch?  Well okay, I guess we could get coffee or something…
And if the exploratory dating process goes well, technology plays a different role in a newly-established relationship.  You might Gchat, post Lolcats photos on each other’s walls, or text sweet nothings between classes.  However, at some point you will begin to fall into tech traps.  And how you deal with these issues often influences other aspects of your relationship.

The first hurdle, and often the most difficult to navigate successfully, is the Facebook relationship discussion.  Do you delete your relationship status altogether or change it to “In a Relationship”?  Should you make your default profile picture a cute photo of the two of you?  Is it even a good idea to link your respective social networking profiles?

As your relationship deepens, technology may be helpful or even crucial.  Any student who has studied abroad or dated someone from out-of-state can attest to the importance of Skype and video chatting in maintaining their relationship while separated by thousands of miles.  And even if you live close to one another or attend the same college, messaging back and forth and posting pictures can keep the spark alive or reinforce great memories.
But if you begin to doubt your partner, their reliance on technology can act as a temptation.  If their email or Facebook accounts are open on their laptop or their phone is left unattended, you may feel the urge to snoop.  Sometimes such behavior doesn’t even stem from suspicion, but mere curiosity.  However, hacking someone’s account or looking through their call log can lead to relationship disaster.

Kaitlin, a Boston College student, explained how betrayed she felt after discovering that her boyfriend had looked through her text messages, call log, and emails while she was sleeping.  That was the final straw in their already rocky relationship, and she called it quits soon after.  The invasion of privacy made her feel terrible, and she had nothing to hide from her partner.
Getting caught snooping can end a relationship.  But even if the violation of privacy goes undetected, uncovering damaging information can end a relationship just as quickly.  If your suspicions or concerns are validated, does that make looking through someone’s assumed private communications acceptable?  BC student Bridget explained, “I looked through my ex’s phone and Facebook all the time.  I never saw anything bad, but I was always worried about his friendship with one girl in particular and wanted to make sure nothing was going on between them.”

Using the web or a phone’s data storage to gather information on your significant other is tempting, especially for the tech-savvy.  And while this behavior can shed light on problems in a relationship or reassure us that nothing is wrong, it should ultimately encourage honest communication between partners.  And if such a discussion is not possible in your current relationship, maybe you should reconsider being Facebook official.

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