July 1998


Introduction to Special Issue on Online Relationships, Part II

by A. Baker

The following two papers explore what happens when people make personal, informal connections through computer-mediated communications. Through the use of participant-observation, Ellen Baird describes how Native Americans decipher the true from the dishonest on a chatline to determine who is a real Indian and who is merely a "wannabe". Newcomers'presentations of self, beginning with the handle chosen, may collide with correct representations of ethnic identity in the chatroom. Humor provides another method of detection and gives the in-group a way to define boundaries.

Meeting someone through writing before encountering them physically has happened frequently as more people join chatlines, discussion groups, and dating services online. Andrea Baker has gathered eighteen couples for exploratory research on how people who meet in cyberspace go about finding each other, and how they then come to meet in real life (RL). In responses to emailed questionnaires she finds out about obstacles encountered, expectations versus realities, and feelings at the first RL meeting. Advantages of first getting to know someone in cyberspace include a wider pool of potential partners with shared interests plus an opportunity to communicate without the distractions of the physical world.

Andrea Baker is a sociologist at Ohio University, Lancaster where she does research on Internet issues. She seeks couples who met in cyberpace for her ongoing "Online Couples Project". Please write to her at

Copyright © 1998 by Andrea Baker. All Rights Reserved.

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