Pre-Dating: A social artifact of the digital age

26 Jul

As I lay poolside reading People Magazine’s StyleWatch, something on the “What’s IN, What’s OUT” list caught my eye. The magazine uses a term called “pre-dating” to describe the researching of one’s blind date’s online history before you actually meet with them. You might think that this would be under the OUT heading, filed under potential stage-five clinger, but no; the writer (ranker?) is in complete support of it. This is supposedly a “new phase of a would-be relationship!” (Their exclamation mark, not mine).

Although pre-dating is not a term I’m familiar with, it is a practice I have dabbled in. And honestly, who hasn’t digitally-stalked someone of interest? With a plethora of information about potential mates at the tips of our fingers, it’s very difficult to bypass the option of perusing someone’s tagged pictures or seeing how they describe themselves in their “About Me,” as if this filtered and self-produced information will somehow clue you in to the essence of their being. This pre-date research isn’t a new phenomenon, though; it existed prior to social media, as well. Before Twitter and Facebook became almost socially required, we’d ask our network of friends about an individual without the aid of the world wide web. We relied on others’ opinions of an individual to gauge whether or not we should go for it, or, more likely, whether or not the aforementioned person of interest was a creeper. Now that this information is online for (almost) anyone to see, we no longer feel the need to interrogate our peers about a certain somebody. We can locate that information on our own, as can any other of the millions of users who have access to it by signing up for an account (or sometimes by merely having Internet access, depending on how tight your privacy settings are).

An episode of “Let’s Talk About Pep” I once watched (don’t judge me) echoes this topic. One of Pep’s friends googled her date before dining with him. While People’s StyleWatch may approve this pre-date tactic, I’m sure as hell they would not have endorsed or encouraged her interrogation of him at the dinner table regarding crass comments left by other females on his Facebook wall. A mere two years ago it was considered somewhat of a social taboo to use social media as a source of information. This was not yet normal, nor something to be proud of. I recall a particular case of second-hand embarrassment I experienced while overhearing a young woman giving her boyfriend the third degree over some females whose friend requests he had recently accepted on MySpace (my friend and I hurried to finish our double-doubles and fries with our faces burning in shame for the poor guy). Now one of the most common answers to the question “Who told you that?” is: “Facebook.” It has become so embedded in our everyday routines that it has made talking about it in public, for the most part, acceptable. However, there are still some things that, even though universally practiced, should not be discussed at the dinner table.

So what is it exactly about this data-mining strategy that strikes me as creepy? I’m not quite sure myself. Maybe it’s because instead of going through humans to aggregate personal information, we now do this via a non-living, robotic medium. Sure, a human is willingly displaying this information for the world to see, but somehow this feels less authentic and more look-at-me than a friend’s testimonial. Or maybe the creepy-factor is that this new practice is so popular that it merits a positive ranking on a magazine’s IN list. I’m not saying it’s a bad habit that should be avoided; investigative Facebooking has cleared up many a confusion that my beer-goggles had created the night before. By all means digitally-stalk away, but let’s keep that shit on the down low in face-to-face settings.

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