24thSep2010

Svetlana Wants To Meet

This summer I was sitting with a friend on a nice terrace in the city center of L'viv, Urkraine (I marked it on Google Maps, for your interest). The terrace was overlooking the city's promenade where the local folk - i.e. the well-known Ukrainian girls - were gallivanting, hoping to catch an eye, or for others to get invited by the elderly to play a game of cards on their bench. Time passed quickly, as you may believe. It was already evening so we tried to make up our minds on some nice dishes from the quite extensive menu. I settled on a fine Caesar salad and another cheap-ass pint. But then it happened. Just when my friend left the table to go to toilet a fine looking lady came to me and caught me off guard with Ukrainian gibberish. As it is quite common that people do not speak English in Ukraine, I thought the words "Sorry, English?" would suffice. However, to my surprise the lady responded in English asking what kind of salad I had?! A gander at her table after she went away was enough to understand the situation. There was a not-so-fine-looking British guy (obviously not generalizing) sitting at her table, making his way through several meals while she was making a bored impression the whole evening as the conversation between the two halted early on.

It seems quite common for western men to pick up their wives in Ukraine and Russia. There are websites dedicated for this exact purpose such as russianbrides.com and bride.ru including a nice answer.com estimate on the expenses to get one. We met an American guy who was staying in Ukraine for a couple of months already and expected to have a friend over from New York in the coming days. He showed us a 'business' card of the friend which outlined the friend's purpose of visit; he was coming over to find his wife. The card had a photo, his job, and his mission to find a wife written down on it. It is still guessing if this 'friend' and potential others are the actual agenda of the American for being in Ukraine.

The situation I described here does sound more like a form of, dare I say, trafficking, but inspired me to think about international dating in the age of information technology and social networking. It's just recently that the website DateHardvardsq.com launched as "a unique online dating platform matching discerning women with Harvard University educated men" (via Harvard Crimson). Men signup for free (using their Hardvard @) and women are, after a fee, allowed to try to score one. What other niches are there to be explored in online dating, or are niches on the brink of being overrun by full-blown international dating?

The following is a bold look on the process of communal living towards globalization. Nationalism is a concept which is not that old. Nationalism is the successor of the communal living situation where the farmer's boy married the girl next door, and neighboring villages were only visited sporadically. However, this small scale society changed due to the standardization and homogenization spurred by industrialization. In the times before the industrialization of the 18[sup]th[/sup] and 19[sup]th[/sup] century, society was only organized in these communities together with decentralized politics, not statewide (Gellner, 1983). Raymond Williams also writes about these developments in The Technology and the Society (1970) and extends these societal changes. Williams expands on the bilateral relation between these changes in society and the technologies of their time. Capitalism with its increased mobility incited the counter-force of privatization of the home with one-directional radio and television technology in the 20[sup]th[/sup] century due to increasing distances mobility introduced in society. But now with information technology the world has become 'smaller', allowing people to go from domesticated to global. Where industrialization also meant homogenization by means of a nationwide constructed culture of norms and values (Gellner), dictated through media (Williams), globalization could incite the transformation again. This lineage could continue with the new cultures of SNSs such as Facebook and Twitter (dating like-minded people from Twitter?).

The question I ask: are these international dating websites, or dating websites aimed at long distances such as DateHardvardsq.com, a harbinger for new cultural elements?  The process of globalization could encourage people to seriously look for partners outside their borders - whatever they may be - with the help of telematics, a chance once only privileged by kings and tsars.

References

Williams, Raymond. The Technology and the Society. London: Fontana, 1974.

Gerllner, Ernest. Nations and Nationalism. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1983.

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