Can the internet take the place of a romantic relationship?
My knee-jerk response (as opposed to the spleen-jerk response) is "no, of course not". There are things that I can get from a flesh-and-blood relationship that I certainly can't get online.
But of course, when I find myself so devoted to my social programming, I have to take a second look.
Okay, the first tumble comes from the virtual nature of things on the internet. My personal presence online is pretty focused here; I do have a couple of other social networking connections, but they are far back in the noise level because LJ fits my style of communication more than any other that I've tried. I like writing here, I like the ability to share pictures, to play with words when I choose, to practice writing, to engage in silly debates about who would win in a fight to the death between my old socks and ten hot chicks in bikinis. It allows me a freedom that I might not otherwise have to be social, even when I'm not feeling actually social enough to see people in person.
There's something of an equalization that happens, where I am not judged so much by the way I look as much as my ability to communicate and entertain and foster thought and discussion. It is less about how telegenic I am and more about things of a deeper nature.
But within this same aspect is the nosh that I am self-editing. You aren't seeing my spelling or phrasing errors, you aren't catching subtle cues of body language or expression, you aren't hearing the melodious dynamics of my voice lulling you into a false sense of security. And I tend to be a lot more honest and open about who I am than the norm; consider the archetypal middle-aged fat guy posing as a nubile barely-legal-but-sexually-curious cutie-pie. How can you be sure who (or what) it is that you have your virtual dick in?
And then I have to ask does it matter? If you're of the ilk that is gonna pay twenty-some bucks a month for a membership in Second Life so you can boff some virtual supermodel-wannabe, is it really gonna spoil your fun to realize that the actual person behind the avatar isn't who they appear to be?
The big disparity is of course the non-material nature of the internet runs counter to the physical nature of touch, affection, sex, and the like. There are some interesting technological advances in the industry of online nookie, such as this awesome use of text messaging. And I really can't forget slashdong, perfect for the do-it-yourselfer.
And if we relax the rules a bit, you can certainly find some physical companionship online for those times when you really need that flesh-to-flesh contact.
So there is some necessary paradigm-shifting that has to happen for the internet to become your next lover. It's a shift away from meat, a shift away from physical interaction, or at least the coupling of the emotional with the physical.
I don't think we're there yet, but as the web generation comes of age, I think it may become the norm.