While 78.8% of the participants were unmarried, not dating, is further reflective in the data output, and this may be one of the revealing factors of some of the conflicting data in the study. To what extent this impacts the study might be reflected in the variances, especially that the data would suggest that the participants are relying less on other sources around which to build their perceptions, and more on their own experiences.
One of the surprising facts to come out of the study conducted here is the variance in the social norm and beliefs-based responses from the participants. It might be suspected that the degree of safety involved with the use of the Internet in initiating a relationship might impact to a noticeable degree the participant's perceptions and attitudes in the social norms and beliefs data yield. Either Internet safety was not an issue for the participant s, or their own experiences and that of their families and friends were not negatively impacted in such a way as to be concerned with the rate of incidence that might encountered by people who use the Internet as a mask for their true identity; that is, they're trying on different personalities, or perhaps even concealing a predatory personality. It would indicate too that the news sources and other ads that focus on the use of the Internet, and especially those that might promote the Internet as a forum for initiating online relationships, does not concern itself with the issue of safety either. That the initial meetings are not face-to-face seems to serve as a safety net for users, eliminates the safety concern, which might now be more prevalent in the more conventional one-on-one relationship building processes. People are seemingly relying much more on their personal instincts, the sense of the other person online, than they are in a face-to-face meeting with someone. Here, again, is another facet of the data yield which warrants further study and investigation.
If the study has a limitation, it is because it was administered in a web-based questionnaire mode that eliminated the assurance that the participant was the person who actually participated in the study. At the same time, the web-based questionnaire - like the social relationships being discussed - afforded the participant the privacy, the anonymity, and the sense of security with which to be open and honest about the responses, and should therefore reflect a data set that is a sound and true reflection of the participant's perceptions and experiences.
Nor does the study provide insight as to how often relationships that begin on the Internet are migrated to relationships of face-to-face, one-on-one contacts, or the number of relationships that never migrate to that point. However, the study does reflect that 73% of the participants in the study conducted here believe that they need the Internet as a tool in meeting a romantic partner, and that 75% of the participants plan to use the Internet at some point in seeking a romantic relationship. This, again, substantiates and supports recent studies cited here that the Internet has become a social norm in the mind and practices of users as both a commonly used and commonly acceptable mode for initiating and maintaining a romantic relationship.
The methods employed in the study are sound and above reproach. The tables built around the data yield are cumbersome and could perhaps have been better constructed, or could have broken down the information into separate tables that would facilitate the user's understanding of them in a much better way, and made the information more visually traceable. While the formulae used are proven and do not impact the data yield, the references used to relate to the tables might prove cumbersome for someone who did not create them. Since the study is intended for use by a broad range of users, it would perhaps be better to present the tables, the reference codes, and the output of the data more user friendly way.
Again, the methods employed prove reliable and accurate, but this is a tool for the researcher and investigator; it does not necessarily facilitate the understanding of the end user of the study.
Based on the study, the conclusion is that, first, in order to gain a better understand of, and insight into, the topic of online relationships, more studies and investigations on the subject need to be conducted. However, as concerns this study alone, the results, methods and limitations identified in the results of the data analysis significantly contribute to the existing body of literature and information on the subject of online relationships. The results indicate, too, that the individual and group perceptions towards the online relationships is less impacted than by social norms than the data in previous studies had reflected, showing that the online relationship building has moved from the social shadows into the full light of acceptable social behavior as far as pursuing relationships amongst contemporary college age people (see Table 3).
Again, however, because the role of the Internet in starting, building and maintaining relationships is new, further studies are needed to demonstrate the extent to which relationships that are built online, maintained online, can be sustained using the new and seemingly permanent tool of the Internet for that purpose. Nor does the data at this stage, or this level of investigation, reveal whether or not the dark side of Internet relationship building will come to the forefront and need to be addressed; that is, the point at which and extent to which the Internet ceases to be a too in beginning, building and sustaining relationships, and the point at which and extent to which the Internet is used to prolong relationships beyond their viable or sustainable human face-to-face, on-on-one interactions. That is, when the Internet becomes a tool of personal invasion on the privacy of those no longer wish to maintain, build, or sustain a face-to-face relationship. We have already seen some instances of that problem in the media, and, as the use of the Internet becomes intricately intertwined in the lives of those who use it for purposes of building personal relationships, it is foreseeable that that problem will in the near future become much bigger than is now being reported.
The study clearly shows that a new dimension exists with respect to meeting, building and sustaining relationships. The use of the Internet as a medium for initiating and maintaining relationships is a mainstay, not about to go away. The proliferation of technology to that end, IPods and cell phones, that make it easier to connect with anyone virtually anywhere at any given time is reflective of the extent to which this new social dimension has become both a social norm, and is embedded in the minds and activities of people young and old. Bonebrake's (2005) statement that people who use the Internet as the starting point of a relationship represent a certain section practicing unconventional approaches to beginning and maintaining relationships is no longer true; in fact, in today's busy world and work environments, the use of Internet dating services and the Internet in meeting and beginning relationships is rapidly expanding in use and acceptance; as evidenced by the study conducted here.
So, while this study has been successful in meeting its stated purpose, and has accurately measured the attitudes and perceptions of the group on the subject of online romantic relationships, it is clear that this but one step in what needs to further and on-going studies to track the use of the Internet in social relationships and how those relationships are both impacted by the use of the Internet, and how society at large is impacted by this new technological facet to…