In a recent article by The Huffington Post, Kathleen Miles accesses the affordances of newly launched social media network Grouper. Miles recognizes Grouper as a new technology posing a scandalous threat to the social norms of etiquette in the dating world. It is generally assumed that “dating” is an event occurring between two people in the interest of getting to know the other more intimately. Many sites on the Internet have already provided interested people with communicative portals to meet others online. What Grouper does differently is that it provides users with a new dating strategy: group dating. This “social club”, as Grouper likes to term itself, extracts the awkwardness from that ever-so-painful first blind date. By making it the norm to invite your friends to the date, you will never have to go home alone (even if the date turns out to be a disaster)!
There exist numerous dating sites that allow users to connect and potentially find love, but Grouper is the first site that allows for dating in larger group settings. Nancy Baym states that interactivity on the Internet can vary in degree and kind with its ability to connect people in new and different ways (7). The interactivity between users on Grouper will be more relaxed and casual because of its branding as a “social club”. Anxiety and nervousness about blind dates will be eased with this type of dating because there is less pressure on the individual to impress another. Huffington Post looks at the sites’ potential as changing the way people date and interact in a social setting. It focuses on the way in which Grouper is slowing influencing change in the social norms of dating. It describes how Grouper allows online users to date in a new fashion, focusing on the specific functions benefiting online users.
The Huffington Post frames this social media tool around technological determinism, placing all influences and power on Grouper itself. Baym explains the “impact-imprint” perspective of technological determinism in her book Personal Connections In The Digital Age, stating “Technologies change history by transferring their essential qualities to their users, imprinting themselves on users’ individual and collective psyches” (26). Never in the Huffington Post article is it mentioned how users of the site have agency while interacting with the site. Rather, all responsibility is placed upon Grouper for creating this new dating platform, or as they like to call it, “social club”. By stating, “We will never date the same way again”, The Huffington Post is suggesting that Grouper will have enough influence on society that it will change the way in which dating functions. This calls upon the possible domestication of Grouper in our future if it so happens that we as a society accept this type of dating as the new norm. Domestication is “particularly concerned with the processes at play as new technologies move from being fringe (wild) objects to everyday (tame) objects embedded deeply in the practices of daily life” (Baym, 45). With growing numbers and popularity, Grouper has the potential to become the next Facebook.
Grouper has branded themselves as a “social club” rather than a dating website, which Kathleen Miles believes makes the site more inviting to young people. The way in which Grouper presents itself as a social networking site makes its users more comfortable to interact with other users. This way, the interactivity can come across as more casual and less targeted. Grouper has the potential to create a greater digital divide between users and non-users of this new technology. Baym defines the digital divide as “a digital division between those who have access to the Internet and those who do not” (18). Baym indicates, “those most able to use new media are able to use them to improve their lives in ways that those who do not use them are not, increasing social and economic disparity” (18). If Huffington Post’s prediction is right, and the dating scene as we know it moves towards a more “social club” setting, those who are not participating will not have knowledge of this cultural change. Baym addresses the benefits of reach associated with social media networks. In her book Personal Connections In The Digital Age, Baym explains, “many forms of digital communication can be seen by any internet user (as in the case of websites) or can be sent and, thanks to storage and replicability, resent to enormous audiences” (10). The way by which Grouper allows users to invite friends to the date, it is extending its reach to new potential users or already existing ones. Its capacity to include many more people to the phenomenon makes for a great (and cheap!) marketing tool. At the same time, this reach of communication will only get through to those interacting in cyberspace. These online userswilling to participate will overwhelming be of the same type of person: young, single adults who are actively seeking potential partners online. This expansion of the digital divide is ever present because of this disconnect. Older generations that are less familiar with Grouper or technology in itself will inevitably be further distanced. A new technology whose main incentive is to connect people also has the potential to further distance the world. Do the benefits outweigh the deficits? With the fast pace of technological changes today, we will soon find out.