dating in the United States, and how technology has affected dating in the last 50 years. Specifically, it will express the impact of technology over the past 50 years on dating patterns of "young adults" (ages 13-30 depending on the social norm of the decade). Dating has always been a ritual for young adults to find themselves and discover their sexuality while trying out potential long-term mates. Today, dating, and how young people date, has changed considerably due to advances in technology. Technology has changed dating tremendously in the last 50 years, and yet, one thing remains the same. Dating is a young adult ritual that helps prepare them for the relationships of adulthood, and that, no matter what changes on the outside, will continue to be a constant in dating today, and in the future.
Technology and its Affect on Dating in the U.S.
It is not surprising that dating in the United States has altered in the last 50 years, what may be more surprising is that it has not altered more. With the great advances America has seen in technology in the last half-decade, it is surprising dating has not become even more evolved and involved than it already has. Technology has had a lasting affect on how young Americans date and it is not hard to believe as technology makes even more advances, that dating will certainly continue to change and evolve.
In the 1950s, dating was a social ritual that was highly controlled by the parents of the two young adults. Often, their dates consisted of sitting on the couch watching a television show or listening to the radio with the parents in the room. As one author notes, "The venues available for such pairing off were relatively limited compared to present times, and for middle-class couples, at least, the dominant practice was for the male to visit the female in her home" (Whyte 17). However, this "baby-boom" time after World War II was a time of great affluence in the U.S., and more and more teens were driving their own cars, and so, the dating pattern began to change as a result of technology and affluence.
With the advent of more teens having cars, dating changed from a controlled environment to one far less controlled by the adults. The automobile gave autonomy to teens, and it brought changes in the dating environment. For example, teens with cars really created the drive-in movie and drive-in restaurant craze. Teens "cruised" in their cars as both a dating ritual and a youth ritual, and as they cruised, they pulled into diners that began to cater to them with carhops and window-side service. The drive-in movie theatre also grew up around the same time, and became extremely popular as a date destination. The teens were safe in the cocoon of their cars, and they could "make out" with little fear of parental interference. Thus, technology helped create a more private environment for dating and it became acceptable in the 1950s and 60s for teens to date in these environments.
Films and television also had a major affect on dating, and they continue that influence today. Teens are usually extremely interested in the newest film releases, and movie theaters have always been a favorite date destination. Drive-in's of course changed the date from a public one to a private one, where anything goes in the back seat, but the films were still the major draw, and many teens do indeed simply watch the movie.
Films are a way for young adults to live out fantasies while they enjoy the company of the opposite sex, and films can play an important role in young people's lives, as they romanticize and fanaticize about their favorite stars. These stars act as role models for many young people and films help enhance their visibility and appeal. As films become more realistic, it is easy for the young viewers to believe these fantasylands really exist, and their lives may parallel the lives on the screen. Dating has altered because of prevalence of films and theaters, and film going is still one of the most popular weekend dates. With the advent of cable television and pay-per-view, films are even more readily available to young adults - even films that are not intended for them, and so, films can insinuate themselves into the lives of young people in many ways, and they can impact their attitudes on dating and sexuality.
Probably one of the biggest influences on dating and sexuality on television is MTV and its music videos. When MTV first came on the air in 1982, the videos it showed were extremely tame by today's standards, such as Billy Joel's "Uptown Girl," and Bruce Springsteen's "Dancing in the Dark." However, as violence and sexuality pervaded film and music, it also began to pervade MTV, and an entire generation of MTV viewers. This has changed dating in a variety of areas, from more young people exploring their sexuality at a younger age, to increased violence in dating relationships, as will be discussed later. Teens have long been attracted to popular music, and the advent of the music video seems to be custom made for young adult viewers. As videos and artists became more violent and more sexual, these mores trickle down to the viewers, and make behaviors that even twenty years ago would have been unacceptable acceptable behavior today.
Today, young people emulate the sensual dress of their favorite stars such as Brittany Spears, and send a sexual message out to anyone watching. Studies have shown that young women are experiencing sex at earlier ages, and there are fewer and fewer virgins who marry, as this researcher noted. "The percentage of nonvirgins at marriage, as computed by this method, increased from 56% among those married in the years 1965-69 to 67% among those who married in 1970-74, and then to 85% among those who married in 1975-79 and 88% among those who married in the years 1980-84" (Whyte 26). It is easy to see sex is much more out in the open than it was in the 50s, 60s, and even 70s, and part of that is because of the prevalence of sex and sexual overtones in so much of today's media, including music videos and films.
Perhaps one of the largest contributions to altering dating patterns has been the proliferation of personal computers and the Internet. The Internet allows people who might never have met each other in person to connect online, and find out more about each other long before they ever meet in person. One Internet dater said, "We are a living testament to the belief that love can be found on the Internet,' says Hale. 'It's not all sexual deviants, liars and folks with pretenses'" (Foston). Internet "dating" has become a modern phenomenon, and it is no longer unusual to meet couples of all ages that have hooked up online. This has changed dating in a variety of ways. The partners no longer need to be in the same room, car, or theater, they can be hundreds of miles away from each other and still date online. They can view films together, listen to the same music, and play games all over the Internet. They can chat whenever they want via Instant Messenger or email. The Internet has taken dating to another level, and has proved to be an excellent way for people to meet other people with the same interests and ideals. Because personal computers have become a necessity for modern life, they are much more readily available to just about anybody (even the library has PCs), and so, they are much easier to access and use for dating and romance as well as business and industry.
These advances in technology have altered dating patterns in many areas, as this expert notes, "The prewar brides on the average reported dating only 4-7 males, whereas the baby boomers estimated dating 10-14 and the youngest women in our sample gave figures averaging 12-15 males" (Whyte 24). In other words, women tend to date more men today than they ever have, and this means they are trying out more partners to learn more about their dating preferences and what they will look for in a long-term mature relationship. Technology has helped make this increase in dating, because there are more ways to meet people than simply school and peers today. People can meet a wider variety of people through Internet dating services than they ever could before, and this has helped increase the dating pool, and alter the dating patterns of many young adults.
Unfortunately, technological advances have also brought on some very negative effects on young adult dating. Modern technology allows information to transfer much more quickly - even undesirable information such as how to create the so-called "date rape" drugs. This is only one example of how a growing trend toward violence is effecting dating today. One violence researcher notes,…