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W hen Samuel F. Morse sent his first long-distance telegraph message inhe chose words that emphasized both the awe and apprehension he felt about his new device. Morse proved prescient about the potential scope and ificance of his technology. In less than a decade, telegraph wires spread throughout all but one state east of the Mississippi River; bythey spanned the continent; and bya transatlantic telegraph cable connected the United States to Europe. The telegraph, and later, the telephone, forever changed the way we communicate.

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But the triumph wrought by these technologies was not merely practical. Subtly and not so subtly, these technologies also altered the range of ways we reveal ourselves. Lowell and others feared that the sophisticated new media we were devising might alter not just how we communicate, but how we feel. Rapid improvement in communication technologies and the expansion of their practical uses continue unabated. Today, of course, we are no longer tethered to telegraph or telephone wires for conversation. Cell phones, e-mail, Internet chatrooms, two-way digital cameras — we can talk to anyone, anywhere, including those we do not know and never see.

The ethical challenges raised by these new communication technologies are legion, and not new. Within a decade of the invention of the telephone, for example, we had deed a way to wiretap and listen in on the private conversations flourishing there. And with the Internet, we can create new or false identities for ourselves, mixing real life and personal fantasy in unpredictable ways. But too little consideration has been given to the question of how our use of these technologies influences our emotions. Do certain methods of communication flatten emotional appeals, promote immediacy rather than thoughtful reflection, and encourage accessibility and transparency at the expense of necessary boundaries?

Do our technologies change the way we feel, act, and think? There is perhaps no realm in which this question has more salience than that of romantic love.

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How do our ubiquitous technologies — cell phones, e-mail, the Internet — impact our ability to find and experience love? Our technical devices are of such extraordinary practical use that we forget they are also increasingly the primary medium for our emotional expression. The technologies we use on a daily basis do not merely change the ways, logistically, we pursue love; they are in some cases transforming the way we think and feel about what, exactly, it is we should be pursuing. They change not simply how we find our beloved, but the kind of beloved we hope to find.

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T he pursuit of love in its modern, technological guise has its roots in the decline of courtship and is indelibly marked by that loss. Courtship as it once existed — a practice that assumed adherence to certain social conventions, and recognition of the differences, physical and emotional, between men and women — has had its share of pleased obituarists. The most vigorous have been feminists, the more radical of whom appear to take special delight in quelling notions of romantic love. With technical advances came a shift in social mores.

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On the contrary, our current courting practices — if they can be called that — yield an increasing of those aging coquettes, as well as scores of unsettled bachelors. In the s, books such as The Ruleswhich outlined a rigorous and often self-abnegating plan for modern dating, and observers such as Wendy Shalit, who called for greater modesty and the withholding of sexual favors by women, represented a well-intentioned, if doomed, attempt to revive the old courting boundaries.

Cultural observers today, however, claim we are in the midst of a new social revolution that requires looking to the future for solutions, not the past. Whitehead, co-director of the National Marriage Project at Rutgers University, is the author of Why There are No Good Men Leftone in a booming mini-genre of books that offer road maps for the revolution.

Whitehead views technology as one of our best solutions — Isolde can now find her Tristan on the Internet though presumably with a less tragic finale. Although Whitehead is correct in her diagnosis of the problem, neither she nor the mavens of modesty offer a satisfactory answer to this new challenge. A return to the old rules and rituals of courtship — however appealing in theory — is neither practical nor desirable for the majority of men and women. But the uncritical embrace of technological solutions to our romantic malaise — such as Internet dating — is not a long-term solution either.

What we need to do is create new boundaries, devise better guideposts, and enforce new mores for our technological age. First, however, we must understand the peculiar challenges to romantic success posed by our technologies. A lthough not the root cause of our romantic malaise, our communication technologies are at least partly culpable, for they encourage the erosion of the boundaries that are necessary for the growth of successful relationships.

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Our technologies enable and often promote two detrimental forces in modern relationships: the demand for total transparency and a bias toward the over-sharing of personal information. With the breakdown of the old hierarchies and boundaries that characterized courtship, there are far fewer opportunities to glean information about the vast world of strangers we encounter daily.

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This is all, for the most part, a good thing. But how, then, do people find out about each other? Few self-possessed people with an Internet connection could resist answering that question with one word: Google. That is — not reliable at all. What Google and other Internet search engines provide is a quick glimpse — a best and worst list — of a person, not a fully drawn portrait.

In fact, the transparency promised by technologies such as Internet search engines is a convenient substitute for something we used to assume would develop over time, but which fewer people today seem willing to cultivate patiently: trust. He seemed nice that night, but he could be anyone from a rapist or murderer to a brilliant author or championship swimmer.

In sum, transparency does not guarantee trust. It can, in fact, prove effective at eroding it — especially when the expectation of transparency and the available technological tools nudge the suspicious to engage in more invasive forms of investigation or surveillance. One woman I interviewed, who asked that her name not be revealed, was suspicious that her live-in boyfriend of two years was unfaithful when her own frequent business trips took her away from home. Unwilling to confront him directly with her doubts, she turned to a technological solution.

I even tracked his ATM withdrawals to locations near his scheduled meetings with other women.

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She ended the relationship, but remains unrepentant about deploying surveillance technology against her mate. Considering the amount of information she could find out about her partner by merely surfing the Internet, she rationalized her use of spyware as just one more tool — if a slightly more invasive one — at the disposal of those seeking information about another person. As our technologies give us ever-greater power to uncover more about each other, demand for transparency rises, and our expectations of privacy decline.

The other destructive tendency our technologies encourage is over-sharing — that is, revealing too much, too quickly, in the hope of connecting to another person.

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The opportunities for instant communication are so ubiquitous — e-mail, instant messaging, chatrooms, cell phones, Palm Pilots, BlackBerrys, and the like — that the notion of making ourselves unavailable to anyone is unheard of, and constant access a near-requirement. As a result, the multitude of outlets for expressing ourselves has allowed the level of idle chatter to reach a depressing din. The inevitable result is a repeal of the reticence necessary for fostering successful relationships in the long term.

Information about another person is best revealed a bit at a time, in a give-and-take exchange, not in a rush of overexposed feeling. Perhaps the best example of this tendency is reality TV and its spawn. Programs like The Bachelor and The Bacheloretteas well as pseudo-documentary shows such as A Dating Story and A Wedding Story and A Baby Story on The Learning Channel, transform the longings of the human heart into top Nielsen ratings by encouraging the lovelorn to discuss in depth and at length every feeling they have, every moment they have it, as the cameras roll.

On the Internet, dating blogs offer a similar sophomoric voyeurism. One dating blogger, who calls himself Quigley, keeps a dreary tally of his many unsuccessful attempts to meet women, peppering his diary with adolescent observations about women he sees on television. Successful relationships are not immune to the over-sharing impulse, either; a plethora of wedding websites such as SharetheMoments.

And, if things go awry, there are an increasing of revenge websites such as BadXPartners. Think they are just the one for you? Better safe than sorry! Transparency and complete access are exactly what you want to avoid in the early stages of romance. Only gradually would they reveal themselves. Today such a tableau seems as arcane as Kabuki theater; modern couples exchange the most intimate details of their lives on a first date and then return home to blog about it.

One man I interviewed described a relationship that began promisingly but quickly took a technological turn for the worse. After a few successful dates, he encouraged the woman he was seeing, who lived in another city, to keep in touch.

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Impervious to notions of technological etiquette, however, she took this to mean the floodgates were officially open. She began telephoning him at all hours, sending overly-wrought e-mails and inundating him with lengthy, faxed letters — all of which had the effect not of bringing them closer together, which was clearly her hope, but of sending him scurrying away as fast as he could. Later, however, he became involved in a relationship in which e-mail in particular helped facilitate the courtship, and where technology — bounded by a respect on the part of both people for its excesses — helped rather than harmed the process of learning about another person.

Technology itself is not to blame; it is our ignorance of its potential dangers and our unwillingness to exercise self-restraint in its use that makes mischief. I nternet dating offers an interesting case study of these technological risks, for it encourages both transparency and oversharing, as well as another danger: it insists that we reduce and market ourselves as the disembodied sum of our parts.

And it is a booming business. Approximately forty percent of American adults are single, and half of that population claims to have visited an online dating site. There is, not surprisingly, something for the profusion of tastes: behemoth sites such as Match.

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Niche sites such as Dateable. Single people with religious preferences can visit Jdate. As with any product, new features are added constantly to maintain consumer interest; even the more jaded seekers of love might quail at Match. One woman I interviewed, an attractive, successful consultant, tried online dating because her hectic work schedule left her little time to meet new people.

She went to Match. She quickly decided to post her own. More alluring profiles garnered an e-mail introduction. After meeting several different men for coffee, she settled on one in particular and they dated for several months.