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Technologies Like Facebook, Twitter and Cellphones Affect Dating Compatibility

Scarlett Johansson, left, with Drew Barrymore, whose character, Mary, gets excited when a man asks her out via MySpace in "He's Just Not That Into You." Such is the romance of modern technology.
Scarlett Johansson, left, with Drew Barrymore, whose character, Mary, gets excited when a man asks her out via MySpace in "He's Just Not That Into You." Such is the romance of modern technology. (New Line Cinema)

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"No cellphone?" Houston cannot fathom a relationship like this. He would never, for example, date someone who refused to text. And someone who was still on MySpace instead of Facebook? "Oh, that would be an automatic reject," Houston says. "It's kind of like a unibrow." He pauses. "Maybe that's why I'm single."

* * *

Either Houston is the shallowest man in the world or he intuitively gets the essential truth of relationships: We all want partners who understand us. We want people who appreciate not only what we say but how we say it. Facebook and MySpace, after all, would seem interchangeable only to people who had never used either one.

Someone who builds ideas like pyramids over the course of 10-paragraph e-mails may not have the same appreciation for the skill required to send a saucy, 23-character text message. Someone who excels at such brevity may not understand the point of long, meandering phone conversations or of IM exchanges where people type over each other rather than waiting for a response.

At Claremont Graduate University in California, researchers are beginning to examine how people's personality traits influence their preferred types of digital communication. The study, conducted by David Dunaetz, has thus far surveyed some 300 participants nationwide.

As expected, extroverts went for "richer" forms of communication like phone or instant messaging, which provide the immediate back and forth that psychologists dub "synchronicity." So did amiable people, and those who were adventurous. Introverts and the easily stressed preferred e-mail -- the lowest on the richness scale -- because it lets them control what they say and when they say it. So did the cautious. E-mail "slows communication down by a factor of five," Dunaetz says. "What you can learn in one day face to face will take five days via e-mail."

That just might explain why extroverted, adventurous phoners get so offended by texters. When you meet someone you like, shouldn't you want to speed up, not slow down?

And why astute, methodical e-mailers get overwhelmed by phoners. We have nothing but time, Mr. Pushy. What's the rush?

As with almost anything else that causes discord in relationships, technological incompatibility is a sign, not a problem.

Sometimes it's a sign that things are going well.

Katie Brokaw prides herself on composing amazingly complex e-mails. She'll write quizzes, she'll do top 10 lists. "I feel like I can best be demonstrative of my sense of humor when I have the space," says the graduate student. She'll send these works of art off to a guy she likes -- and he'll respond with a two-word text.

"The thing is, 70 percent of texts from him make me laugh out loud," Brokaw says. "He can come back so quickly." She has learned to be impressed, not annoyed, by his brief responses.

This summer, however, brings a new challenge. Brokaw's friend will be going on assignment to a place with no cellphone reception or Internet access. After spending this time navigating the perils of modern communication, the pair will have to correspond . . . by letter. "It is," she says, "so 1890s."


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