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'Quality singles': Internet dating and the work of fantasy



This article builds on a case study of the worldwide online dating site to develop a theoretical understanding of the place of communication and affect in the information economy. Drawing on theoretical debates, secondary sources, a qualitative survey of dating profiles and an analysis of the features and affordances of the site, the article argues that internet dating seeks to guide the technologically enhanced communicative and affective capacities of internet users to work in ways so that this produces economically valuable content. This is primarily achieved through branding, which as a technique of governance that seeks to work ‘from below’ and ‘empower’ users to deploy their freedom in certain particular, pre-programmed ways. The argument is that online dating provides a good illustration of how the information economy actively subsumes communicative action as a form of immaterial labour.
New Media & Society
DOI: 10.1177/1461444806065663
2006; 8; 671 New Media Society
Adam Arvidsson
‘Quality singles’: internet dating and the work of fantasy
The online version of this article can be found at:
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‘Quality singles’: internet
dating and the work of
University of Copenhagen, Denmark
This article builds on a case study of the worldwide online
dating site to develop a theoretical
understanding of the place of communication and affect in
the information economy. Drawing on theoretical debates,
secondary sources, a qualitative survey of dating profiles
and an analysis of the features and affordances of the site, the article argues that internet dating
seeks to guide the technologically enhanced
communicative and affective capacities of internet users to
work in ways so that this produces economically valuable
content. This is primarily achieved through branding,
which as a technique of governance that seeks to work
‘from below’ and ‘empower’ users to deploy their freedom
in certain particular, pre-programmed ways. The argument
is that online dating provides a good illustration of how
the information economy actively subsumes
communicative action as a form of immaterial labour.
Key words
computer-mediated communication • dating • immaterial
labour • information economy • love • online relationships
The internet dating sector has grown enormously in recent years. It
encompasses a range of mainstream sites, such as
(, (,
new media & society
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Matchmaker ( and Yahoos Club Connect (http://; more niche-oriented operations such as Eharmony
(; devoted to upscale singles), Fitnessdate
(, Jdate ( for Jewish singles, and the
downright esoteric such as (, gathering
some 40,000 participants who rejoice in mutual buttock-slapping or fantasies
thereof. In addition, there are a plethora of geographically specic sites,
such as Eurosingles ( or the Danish
( Many of the larger operations show very solid economics.
Lavalife (, a Canadian site, claimed a total client base of
2 million in 2001, adding on 7000 new customers per day. Together they
produced a revenue of US$100 million., the largest operation,
claimed 9 million registered members worldwide (7 million in the US) and
some 700,000 paying subscribers. In 2001 Ticketmaster (the company that
owns reported that the site generated US$16.5 million in
earnings before interests, taxes, depreciation and amortization on a revenue
of US$49.2 million. In 2002 it was estimated that 15 million US residents
used the internet to nd a partner. The gure was expected to rise to 24
million by 2007 (Graham, 2003). According to Fiore and Donath (2004: 1)
this measure has been surpassed already. They estimate that in August 2003,
personals websites drew 40 million unique visitors, half the number of
single adults in the US. All in all, industry analysts claim the dating market
is worth close to US$1 billion (Olijnyk, 2002).
This article will use a case study of the major international dating site,, as an example around which to construct the beginning of a
theoretical understanding of what here is termed fantasy work and its place
within informational capitalism more generally. It is suggested that such
fantasy work the work of imagining situations, people and relations is
activated to an unprecedented extent in the online economy. Moreover, this
kind of work is becoming critical not only to the realization of value
(where Marx placed it), but also to the production of value (see Miranda,
1998). The imagination is empowered, but it is also put to work as an
important source of prots.
Internet dating provides an important example of this mechanism at
work. In internet dating, our common ability to construct mutual symbolic
meanings, shared experiences and affective bonds is put to work to generate
a kind of content that can be commercialized successfully. This affective
productivity itself has been greatly empowered by new information and
communication technologies (ICTs). Thus internet dating shows how an
emerging productive power, a media-enhanced capacity to imagine and
relate, which is itself a consequence of the particular sociological and
technological features of the information society, can be subsumed under
capital as a source of surplus value. The way that this is accomplished is
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through branding. As argued in my recent book (Arvidsson, 2006), branding
is a managerial technique particular to the information economy (see Lury,
2004). Brand management seeks to control and program a diffuse
production process that proceeds through extended circuits of mediatized
communication. Brand management is about moving the (more or less)
spontaneous activities of an autonomous productive subject (such as the
multitude of networked agents engaged in romantic communication on the
internet) onto plateaus that are desirable and preferable (Terranova, 2004:
122). In this way, branding can be understood as a response to a problematic
that is typical to the information economy; the production of value can be
conceived no longer as uniquely (or even primarily) centred around material
production or the time-space of the factory (Lash, 2002). Rather, the direct
exploitation of labour is becoming less important as a source of prot and
the private exploitation of social knowledge is becoming more important
(Morris-Suzuki, 1997: 64l; see Hardt and Negri, 2000, 2004; Lazzarato,
1997). The capitalist production process tends to coincide with the
reproduction of life itself (Negri, 1995).
Viewed in this way, internet dating is but one aspect of a more general
trend to commodify our ability to construct a common social world
through communicative interaction, putting it to work in generating
economically valuable outcomes (Arendt, 1958; Habermas 1984, 1987;
Hardt and Negri, 2004). Indeed, one can argue that such a movement
towards the commodication of the common constitutes an emerging
paradigm of valorization in e-commerce (as well as in other vanguard
sectors such as software development, biotechnology, brand management and
design). The rst strategy that guided the commercialization of the internet
in the mid-1990s built mainly on a vision of that medium as a new channel
for the provision of content. The key to making money online was to
capture consumers, or eyeballs, to whom one could subsequently broadcast
ready-made products through new channels. This was the economic
rationale behind the merger of large media companies with large content
libraries such as TimeWarner, with internet portals such as America Online
(AOL). Even though this strategy allowed for a certain amount of
interactivity (as to the choice of feature and time of viewing), basically it
replicated an older broadcasting logic in which content was understood to
be produced by professionals and then broadcast to a consumer public
(Schiller, 1999). But the success of AOL in accumulating a critical mass of
eyeballs had been built already on different relations between producers
and consumers. To a large extent, AOLs success derived from the unpaid
efforts of tens of thousands of volunteers who administered online
communities, actively contributed to discussion groups and built and
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maintained websites. It is estimated that in 1996, at the peak of the
volunteer movement, over 30.000 community leaders were helping AOL to
generate at least $7 million a month (Terranova, 2004: 92; see Margonelli,
1999). Thus the success of AOL had built on the ability to put the
communicative production of users to work. A similar strategy stands behind
recent success stories such as eBay, where users themselves construct the
community that serves to guarantee the reliability of the auction site and
underpins its brand equity. It is at work in interactive games (or Massive
Multiplayer Online RolePlaying Games; MMORPGs) such as Sonys
Everquest, Microsoft Asheron’s Call, or America’s Army (which is not an
MMPORG, strictly speaking), the highly successful interactive online
shooting game launched by the US military for recruitment purposes. In the
case of these games, users collaborate to construct the virtual world that
becomes the property of the site owners who, in turn, make money by
selling access (Nuttall, 2003; Terdiman, 2004). Stretching the denition a bit,
we can argue that a similar principle stands behind more recent forms of
media voyeurism, such as webcams or reality television, where viewers
interact and engage in a work of watching that effectively extends the
production of valuable content to include the social and communicative
processes of the lifeworld (Andrejevic, 2003).
This strategy actively utilizes the interactive bias of the medium. It builds
on putting to work, stimulating or empowering the human ability to create
a common through investments of affect (Jarrett, 2003; Negri, 1999). To
quote one Merrill Lynch consultant: to say that the internet is about
information is the same as saying that cooking is about oven temperature
right, but wrong. The real creator of value is relationships (Schrage, 1997).
This relational capacity is made to evolve in such a way that it creates an
enclosable area for which one can charge access fees (as in the case of
MMORPGs), or is made to sustain a distinct brand identity (as in the case
of eBay).
The commodication of affect is nothing new in itself. Karl Marx
recognized the potential value of the production of common meanings and
aesthetic experiences through the labour of singers, schoolmasters and poets.
But he considered these activities so marginal in relation to capitalist
production overall that it was not worth wasting much intellectual energy
on them. Until recently most economists whether Marxist or not have
shared this view of immaterial production as economically insignicant. We
can date the rediscovery of immaterial labour to the 1970s, when feminist
economists began to argue for the productivity of housework and the
(mostly female) production of affect and care in general. This accelerated in
the 1980s, as the developing service economy was the subject of a host of
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studies of service professionals, such as airline stewardesses (Hochschild,
1983) and retail personnel (du Gay, 1996). Recently, the focus on
immaterial labour has come to invest the new culture industries (Power and
Scott, 2004), creative industries (Florida, 2002; McRobbie, 1999) or the
contemporary symbol analytical workforce as such (see Reich, 1991). An
important part of the productivity of such knowledge-intensive professional
workers is understood to rest with their capacity to work with sociality and
communication to produce the kinds of social circumstances (project teams)
and shared meaning complexes (corporate culture) that allow a exible
adaptation of the production process to the rapidly shifting demands of a
volatile market environment (Gorz, 2003; Maravelias, 2003; Negri, 1989;
Virno, 2004). There is also a growing body of literature that stresses the
connection between the mediatization of the work process and the necessity
of, and capacity for, such immaterial, affective work (Zuboff, 1988; see
Kakihara and Sørensen, 2002; Mowshowitz, 2002). This points to the
possibility of a more general connection between the mediatizaton of the
social and the productivity of affect.
Arguably, Marx is not the right thinker to start with in establishing that
connection. A better point of departure is Gabriel Tarde. This long
marginalized (but recently rediscovered) sociologist pointed to the direct
economic relevance of public communication. In his Psychologie ´economique
(Tarde, 1902) he argued that, at least for luxury goods, the value of a
commodity was determined partially by the public production of standards
of truth, beauty and utility that could serve as a measure, because such
goods did not have a place within traditional standards of value. Thus the
cognitive and affective productivity of the public should be understood as an
integral element to a society-wide, extended production process by which
the values of such goods were established (Lazzarato, 1997). Tardes argument
was that the public could serve as such a productive subject because it was
not directly tied into the xed codes of traditional social circles. Rather, the
public mobilized individuals across geographical and cultural boundaries in a
sort of transversal networking of minds similar to the ways in which
contemporary theorists, such as Castells (1996) have thought about the
internet. This autonomy of the public allowed it to produce ideas that could
not emerge elsewhere. In short, the productivity of the public rested on its
particular ability to fantasize or construct virtual alternatives to the actual
(Shields, 2003; Terranova, 2004).
Indeed, such a relation between the mediatization of public
communication and the enhanced powers of fantasy has stood at the core of
the critical reception of new media technologies for a long time. An
enhanced capacity for fantasy has been perceived as the ipside of the new
capacity for rational argument that commonly has been attributed to the
emergence of the modern public (see Habermas, 1989). One of the central
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preoccupations of early social theorists was that the new mass media would
create excessive powers of imagination. People would imagine situations that
they simply could not realize, or situations where realization would severely
disrupt the established order of things. Gustave LeBon (1991[1896]), Schipio
Sighele (1901) and Ortega y Gassets (1932) preoccupations with the
disruptive effects of the mass mind are examples of the second attitude (as
are instances of press censorship and the 18th-century suppression of coffee
houses). Emile Durkheims (1966[1897]) concept of anomie is an example
of the rst attitude. He argued that the greatly enhanced powers of the
imagination that characterize modernity risk propelling the individuals plans
and prospects beyond what is realistically possible or socially permissible.
Durkheim argued that divorced men risk becoming anomic because, beyond
the limits of marriage, they are now free to imagine a sexual life too
fantastic to be realized.
It is telling that Durkheim chooses love and sex (or
to use a common term, the erotic) as an example of the anomic dangers of
the modern, mediatized intellect. As Lynn Hunt (1993), among others, has
argued, the mediatization of erotic fantasy from the early publications of
libertine thinkers such as the Marquis de Sade onwards has been a powerful
and potentially destabilizing force of the imagination. Sades imaginations of
fantastic erotic relations were deeply intertwined with fantasies of a different
social and moral order. When censorship of erotic publications began in the
mid-1800s, mass literacy, cheaper printing technologies and, signicantly,
photography had empowered a mass capacity to fantasize about sex and, by
implication, about a new standard for sexual difference (OToole, 1998).
Female erotic fantasies have been feared to have equally disruptive results. In
fascist Italy, the new erotic demeanour of young urban girls, who modelled
their behaviour on Hollywood lms and romantic stories in new, American-
style womens magazines, was perceived to have dangerous consequences for
established gender roles as well as for female fertility (Arvidsson, 2003; de
Grazia, 1992; Horn, 1996). In India in the 1950s, newspapers and cinema
were mayor driving forces behind the emergence of non-traditional attitudes
to love and marriage (Gist, 1953). In the 1950s, the sociologists Francesco
Alberoni and Guido Baglioni (1965) argued that the new urban culture
spread by television had made girls in southern Italy refuse to marry peasant
men. This, they claimed, was a major driving factor behind migration. In
short, historically the erotic has proved to be an important example of how
the media can enhance the capacity to imagine social relations, and how this
enhanced capacity can subsequently have real, transformative effects.
Indeed, it is telling that according to Thomas Laqueurs (2003) history of
masturbation, the real dangers of the solitary vice were not so much
physical as they were social. He shows how Enlightenment thinkers from
Voltaire and Rousseau to Kant worried about masturbation primarily
because it risked deviating psychic energy away from the moral project of
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the social towards the individualistic pursuit of fantasy. Autoerotic sexuality
was at odds with social and moral life as it ought to be lived, it risked
making the subject hopelessly enslaved to himself (Laqueur, 2003: 42). This
perspective on masturbation as an asocial or even anti-social danger prevailed
until the 1970s, when masturbation began to be taken up by the feminist
movement. The right to control ones own fantasy became something for
and with which to ght. The possibility to imagine alternative forms of
sexual relations became a political tool. In the 1990s, masturbation became
an important business. Through the diffusion of the internet, masturbatory
fantasies could be shared, collectively produced and augmented by a
booming internet porn industry, ultimately feeding into an equally successful
industry for the manufacture of various props and tools. In true Tardian
fashion, the explosion of internet smut served to make companies such as
Doc Johnson, the largest sex toy manufacturer in the USA, go from a
turnover of US$8 million in 1990 to US$45 million in 2000, or Beate
Ushe, their German equivalent, to increase sales by 50 percent between
1999 and 2000 (Laqueur, 2003; not to speak of the turnover of the actual
porn business itself, see Cronin and Davenport, 2001; Lane, 2000). It is
telling that as the internet realizes the hidden potential of masturbatory
economy, fantasies become interactive. True, a lot of online smut sites are
about the simple provision of content. But it seems that the way to attract
and retain customers in this highly competitive environment is by means of
some interactive service, be it a discussion group, interactive striptease or
biographical information on models that makes possible identication and an
intimacy that extends beyond the strictly carnal. This is particularly evident
in new forms of amateur pornography, where users are invited to follow
the models around as they masturbate and water the plants and walk the dog
and take college classes, thus approximating a form of consumption that
builds on the abolition of the spectacular in favour of other models of
relationality (Patterson, 2004: 112, 119; see McNair, 1996). This
interactivity has been pushed further by the emergence of weblogging
(blogging). At present there are blogs for most erotic specialities which
combine posts, ction and other forms of user-produced content with links
to commercial and non-commercial content sites. Some commercial
ventures, such as, have realized the potential in this enhanced
interactivity constituting itself as a platform that links different users and
their different activities (blogging, dating, producing ction, posting photos)
into a community which is not only highly educated but also actively
involved in their topics of interest (all things smart, sexy and culturally
important and entertaining; see
Advertisers are invited to weave their messages into the environment of the
site, to place their products as part of the context within which
communication unfolds.
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Sites such as are an excellent example of the tendency to put
to work the capacity for interactive fantasizing that computer- mediated
communication (CMC) promotes (Parks and Floyd, 1996; Turkle, 1996).
The problem from a managerial point of view is to give this fantastic
productivity direction and embodiment. has solved this problem
by providing a distinct environment that pre-structures and guides
interactivity towards particular arenas, which provides it with a distinct
brand space on which to evolve. So has
In its passage from marginality through politicization to business, dating has
a history which in many ways parallels that of erotic fantasy. The practice
emerges from relatively marginal origins in the 1880s, when newspaper
advertisements were used as a tool for nding partners among migrants and
displaced sections of the population. Personals had a submerged existence
until the 1970s, when the medium resurfaced as part of the sexual
revolution (Cockburn, 1988; Steinrst and Morgan, 1989) Fanzines and
small media of various kinds helped people of a particular sexual
orientation, such as gay people or swingers, to nd suitable partners.
Looking for a partner catering to ones particular interest also became one
of the main driving forces of the pioneering development of the internet
in the early 1990s, at least from the launch of the alt. domain in 1988 (and
Mintel Rouge in France). With the wider diffusion of the internet in the
second half of the 1990s, dating became distanced from the sexually explicit,
and as more mainstream venues such as (launched in 1996)
opened up, acceptance spread and the dating sector boomed.
Dating sites are places where the powers of fantasy are stimulated. After
registering and logging on to (or any other major site) there is a
wealth of proles to browse through, theoretically millions on the larger
sites, hundreds of thousands on the lesser ones, although often search
engines will give you no more than 300 to 500 to look at in one session.
(A search on generates a maximum of 500 proles.) All present
themselves as potential partners to romance, friendship or erotic adventure.
Most have photos, usually faces (this is strongly recommended by the guidelines), but sometimes full body shots. On the more
cerebral sites, people sometimes portray themselves in special positions or
offer a view of body parts central to the particular proclivity to which the
site caters. On, typically the extra photos portray the user as
engaged in some activity, whether it be a social function (smiling in an
evening dress with a glass in hand) or in the outdoors, walking on a beach,
waterskiing, windsurng, etc. (the signicance of this will be explored
further later).
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All the proles have information on height, hair colour, body type and a
wealth of similar topics, as well as on lifestyle issues: work, religion, leisure
preferences, values and aspirations. One can linger at a particular prole,
read little essays or diaries, and sometimes discover additional photos or even
video clips. Text and images are deployed to support an ongoing
imagination of the proled other. Like the Oracle at Delphi, dating proles
neither hide nor reveal: they give signs. The cues supplied are inconclusive
and fantasy is activated to ll in the blanks; one clicks ahead and new
questions are asked. Even if site managers encourage you to think of your
prole as your online identity, introducing you to other members . . . as a
quick sketch of who you are, your lifestyle, and what counts most in a
relationship, the effect is primarily that of leaving blanks that stimulate
curiosity and fantasy (see The different
search engines that most sites offer also contribute to this end: one can look
for people in ones geographical location for particular sexual or romantic
preferences, or for keywords in essays or self-descriptions. In this way one
can add on scenarios such as meeting, doing particular things together or
sharing particular interests to ones fantasy in progress. Most dating sites also
supply some kind of automatic matching service. Match.coms Venu s
automatically chooses and alerts you to proles that are compatible with
your own. With Venus, new matches arrive three times a week or daily.
There is always new material for fantasy available.
The actual registration
process also stimulates investment in fantasy and creativity. After answering a
number of fairly straightforward questions on age, occupation, body type,
background/values (including ethnicity), users are invited to respond to
more esoteric queries, such as: When are you happiest?, What have you
done that makes you proud?, If you could choose a superpower, what
would that be?, How does your [ideal] match spend his/her weekends?
Users are invited to imagine their ideal match: What kind of hair do you
want to run your ngers through? and choose a scenario for an ideal date.
These imaginations are used subsequently as input by the search engine and
affect the selection of matches. Finally, users are invited to describe
yourself and who you would want to date in a short, 2000 character essay.
This is recognized as the hard part and the site supplies a lot of advice and
guidelines for the insecure user.
The next step is to share your imagination with others through
communication. Here too, there are many options. One can start with
sending a wink, a non-committal message with no content that signals
ones potential interest in a prole. The point here is that whoever is
winked at gets new material for fantasy by exploring who winked them.
The communication can go on to richer media formats such as messages or
emails. Most sites offer the possibility to keep it on the level of fantasy
through anonymous emailing services and, in the case of,
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anonymous voicemail and telephone calls (this gives the opportunity to hear
how his voice sounds and thus imagine him in more detail, before
deciding whether one wants to meet or not) (Hecht, 2003). Indeed, the
advice encourages people to feel free to explore each other in depth, to
wait until its time, until you feel condent with sharing personal
information or contact information. Such recommendations certainly work
towards creating the safe environment that most dating sites cite as their
particular advantage (although statistics suggest that users generally perceive
online dating environments to be safer than traditional mating venues
anyway; Berin and Dolinsky, 2001; Brym and Lenton, 2001). But it also
serves to navigate what Fiore and Donath (2004) identify as the two
conicting goals of dating site designers: to create matches and retain trafc. attempts to solve this by encouraging prolonged anonymous
(and hence on-site) communication. Indeed, Cosmopolitan magazines guide
to internet dating cites Match.coms spokesperson Trish McDermott, whose
advice is that if he wants to set up a date after one exchange of emails, or
mentions sex, cut him loose (cited in Goins, 2002: 1). McDermott implies
that security is a factor behind this advice: if a man mentions sex or wants
to see you at once, he is certainly a weirdo. But she also hints that such
hurried behaviour is improper in itself, it goes against the emphasis on in-
depth self-discovery and thus disqualies the man as a Quality Single
(which is what the site sells). Refusing to engage in long processes of
communicative fantasizing also goes against the brand identity and the very
purpose of the site. does have a strong and coherent format. Browsing through
the site one is struck by the apparent similarity of proles.
There appears to
be a fairly generally accepted normative model for self-presentation on the
site. Interestingly, this model differs substantially from what has been
observed in earlier studies of mainstream, ofine dating media (Jagger, 1998,
2001). It is true that sometimes, men tend to stress their nancial standing
or market value, presenting themselves as single, sane, solvent (WM, 30),
but this is neither a very frequent nor a particularly dominant trait.
Similarly, some women stress their physical appearance or sexual readiness,
presenting themselves as a fun-loving up for it all sex-kitten (WF, 19), but
again, this is rare.
Nor are the lifestyle traits that Jagger (2001) sees
emerging at the expense of more traditional gender roles particularly
prominent. Rather, the dominant element of the vast majority of the
proles surveyed here was what one would call an experiential ethic of
self-discovery, an orientation towards touching, revealing or sharing ones
true self through open-hearted and intimate communication with others, or
through an active or experientially rich life conduct.
Most users would
stress how they already lead an experientially rich existence with a rich
social life:
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I love, travelling, working out, reading books, spending time with family and
friends. (WF, 31)
I love seeking experiences through food, travel, conversation. (WF, 31)
In particular, they stress how they possess the qualities to enrich their lives
further through contact and new experiences; how they are easy going,
intelligent, condent and have a passion for life. Users would then seek
partners with whom to share a life conceived as an ongoing quest for
enriching experiences. They would seek
someone who loves to enjoy life and lives to enjoy love. Someone incredibly
down-to-earth with whom one can dare to be oneself. Someone who I can
pretend to be an adult with and yet still be silly and childlike with, someone
to laugh at and above all laugh with. (BF, 24)
I need someone who can keep up with me and my hectic life, adding
something to my existence in a positive way. (AF, 20)
Of course, this could be a matter of class habitus. Perhaps such quests for
self-expansion through continuous experiences make up the ideal of the
particular class of culturally mobile, urban, college-educated symbol
workers that make up the main target for (as for dating sites in
general, see later; see Emmison, 2003; Skeggs, 2004). Presumably these
people have been taught to valorize social competence and affective
productivity in their professional activity. But at least the men tend to signal
a slight tension between the experiential ethic that prevails as the norm on
the site and their own true selves. It is not that they do not embrace it
and some men do this well but many signal a certain difculty or
awkwardness, as if they regret their inability to be more imaginative:
Favourite hot spots: Boring, I know but I love the Canaries, its always hot!
(WM, 24)
while clearly, a better answer would be:
Mountains, rivers, ski slopes, beaches (without sunbathing tourists).
Somewhere where you cant see the impact of man. (WM, 35)
Alternatively, they signal their own desires to retreat humbly and
underline their acceptance of anything.
The difculties that many men seem to have suggests that they feel a
certain pressure to adapt their self-presentation to the expectations of the
environment (and is very much a female space most of its
content providers are women who write from a female perspective). Indeed,
quite a number of men signal overwhelming difculties in constructing a
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Havnt [sic] a clue what to put here. Christ, where to begin? (WM, 27)
I dont feel comfortable having to describe myself, but I understand it has to
be done, so here we go. (LM, 31)
It seems that many male users feel that there is a distinct brand identity
for them, centred on a problematic emphasis on the self and its experiences
and complexities, that they have to wrestle with when making their self-
presentations on the site.
Celia Lury (2004) argues that a brand is to be understood as a platform
for action brands should be seen as diffuse programming devices that
enter social life and pre-structure or anticipate possible actions or
experiences of actions. In this way, brand management demonstrates close
similarities with other post-disciplinary or advanced liberal (Dean, 1999;
Rose, 1999) forms of power. It is a matter of working from below by
constructing an environment in which certain expectations are inscribed.
Brands are not primarily authoritarian or normative but empowering. They
govern subjects by enabling their actions to evolve in particular directions;
they do not say You must! but You may! (Barry, 2001; Zizek, 1999). A
dating site is a perfect branding tool in this sense, because it supplies a
totally articial environment where the very preconditions for action can be
programmed in detail. has made good use of this branding logic,
creating an environment where the very problematic of loneliness and
nding love is already framed within a highly particular discourse that posits
particular conceptions of selfhood and love. Communication and interaction
on evolves on the basis of the assumption that true love is
contingent on a true and authentic experience of selfhood, on revealing the
inner self and its true desires. The rst and most obvious way in which this
is achieved is through the positioning of the brand.
has a series of linkages and co-branding efforts. Many of these, such as
partnerships with Yahoo, MSN, AOL, Compuserve and Netscape where offers its search engine and database in exchange for exposure,
serve primarily to enlarge the customer base. Other linkages are directed
more explicitly at creating a brand identity. This is particularly true in the
case of relationship gurus such as Oprah Winfrey or John Gray. Both
support links to on their personal websites, and the self-
actualization ideology of relationships and love that they propagate feeds into
the advisory content posted on, often with references back to
Oprah and Gray. Problems of loneliness and nding love are presented as
caused by an inability to open oneself up to experiences, or as the result of
inadequate communication skills. People trying unsuccessfully to nd love
are encouraged rst to look into themselves and resolve, access and
recognize: take notice of the patterns of your life that you want to change
(Entwistle, Relationship Strategies for the New Year, nd). offers
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a questionnaire to help with such assessment. Here, the advice for those
who score below the top category is to broaden their horizons and to
consult Match.coms 15-day Love Challenge, a 15-day programme to
achieve an opening up to new possibilities, positive thinking, a richer and
more diverse personality and improved communication skills:
Developing your interests makes you more interesting to others.
Take time to practise your conversation skills with a co-worker or
acquaintance, practise listening, asking questions and showing real curiosity in
their answers. (, nd)
In common with the general self-help ideology, Match.coms approach to
love ignores material and social factors. Rather, it is stressed frequently that
true love is contingent on a compatibility of values and inner qualities.
Users are encouraged to be revealing with respect to their values: The
values that matter most to you probably are the most important to your soul
mate too. But users are not encouraged to be revealing as to their material
possessions or social qualities. The advice when constructing a prole is to:
Go for quality. Your qualities, that is. As opposed to your possessions. Thatll
increase your odds of nding someone who appreciates a good listener, a kind
heart and knockout kisses. Or do you prefer someone who most appreciates
you for your salary and stash of frequent yer miles? (Hecht, 12 Tip to Pen
Perfect Prots, nd)
It seems particularly important to get this across to men, who seem to be
stuck in a materialistic understanding of attraction.
If youre passionate about your work (not your income, your work) share your
enthusiasm with us. Same thing if youre the creative type, an avid traveller, a
volunteer with your favourite charity, a political activist or a devoted pet
owner. Tell us what makes you tick, what makes you happy, what makes you
feel alive. (Hecht, 12 Tips, nd)
Users who have a problem nding love are encouraged to frame that
problem in terms of their individual talents and capacities, and to cultivate
communicative skills that give the impression that they have a deep and
complex self to express: that there is indeed something about them to
communicate. Regardless of whether these skills help in nding love or not,
if they have a use-value for users or not, they certainly serve to make users
valuable to the site as content producers. Such skills enhance the
productivity of their communicative labour. entertains a distinct ideal of how a Quality Single should be
or act:
Someone who approaches new people themselves, moves in the centre of the
circle, is witty and articulate, is open to new experiences, and is more worried
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about his or her inner qualities than about possessions and social status.
(Entwistle, Quiz: New Years Love Resolutions, nd)
The site offers a number of ways to compare oneself more or less
favourably with this Quality Single ideal. Indeed, there is an omnipresent
consciousness of hierarchy at the site, and users are encouraged not to reach
beyond their value or realistic possibilities, not to set your expectations too
high (Entwistle, Relationship, nd). This sort of advice, which positions the
user in relation to a Quality Single ideal, is particularly prevalent in the
advice given to people who are constructing a prole. This is especially
important in relation to body size and income:
If youre overweight, admit youre on the heavy side; if youre plain, dont tout
your legendary beauty. (Kantor, nd)
When posting a photo:
If you are not extra lean and muscular, keep your shirt on.
Dont stand in front of a yacht if it isnt yours. (Schroeder, nd)
And be prepared to accept someone compatible:
Need to drop ten pounds? Be open to dating someone who does too. (Hecht,
12 Tips, nd)
Men, it seems, are in particular need of such advice:
If the list of adjectives you use to describe your ideal match places gorgeous
and sexy before intelligent, were going to notice. If youre 40 and looking
for a woman aged 21 to 30, were going to notice. If your body type is
average or a few extra pounds, but your match must be slim/slender or
athletic, were going to notice. And were going to draw conclusions that will
not improve your chances of getting a date. (Hecht, 2003)
Like a distant echo of the protestant ethic (ltered through the self-help
movement) the site proposes that body type mirrors the persons true inner
self and that true love with a compatible partner is contingent on a truthful
presentation of these qualities: accurate descriptions of your height, body
type, smoking and drinking habits, marital status will attract someone to the
real you not a fantasy you cant deliver (Hecht, 12 Tips, nd).
To some extent this ideal is enforced through disciplinary measures and
sanctions. has a Quality Assurance Team that reviews each and
every prole to provide our members with a comfortable environment and
checks for any direct contact information (this would undermine
Match.coms monopoly on contact mediation, and hence their most
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important source of revenue member subscriptions); abusive language,
vulgarity, racism, discussions or descriptions of illegal acts or behaviour,
solicitation of additional partners ( keeps up the monogamy
ideal) and overt sexual innuendo or discussion. Furthermore,
does not accept content from individuals under the age of 18, or
incarcerated individuals (who are clearly not Quality Singles). Mostly,
however, this ideal imposes itself through the very environment of the site.
By presenting oneself on the site, consulting the advisory material or
reecting on love (and perhaps ones own lack of it) one quite naturally
comes to frame these questions in terms of an equation of romantic success
and attainment of the Quality Single ideal. This ideal comes to function as
a sort of tacit expectation to which one adapts ones self-presentation within
the limits of the possible. Before one even begins to communicate with
other members, the site has already interpellated the subject (to use
Althussers term) as a Quality Single.
The Quality Single ideal serves two purposes. On the one hand it has a
value for users, it provides an embodiment, a materiality (Slater, 1998) that
presumably facilitates self-presentation and interaction on the site. When
certain basic premises of the discourse have been established, when a distinct
environment has been constructed, a certain savoir (to use Foucaults term)
as to what love and intimacy is about has been elaborated, it is probably
easier to engage in romantic communication with strangers. The emphasis
on the self and its revelation gives users something to talk about, a topic
around which communication and mutual imagining can unfold as the
relationship solidies. On the other hand, the Quality Single ideal has a
value for the site. On one level, its emphasis on values and intimate qualities
and its explicit renunciation of material and social factors such as income or
status serves to channel romantic communication onto such topics that can
be explored on the articial arena of the dating site. It serves to keep the
communicative construction of fantasy on the site, where it continues to
generate revenue. On another level, the Quality Single ideal serves to
construct Match.coms brand image. This is what users pay for indeed, the
point of paying subscription fees is that this supposedly facilitates access to a
certain kind of single: the quality kind. (It is generally free to register, but
to initiate contact one has to be a paying member. This makes sense, since
on registration one effectively produces content for the site that paying
members can fantasize about; as a non-paying member one remains food for
other peoples fantasies but with more limited possibilities to feed ones
own.) But the Quality Single also helps to construct the brand
in the eyes of advertisers, giving it a distinct image of the user
that makes its community of users particularly valuable, enabling certain
forms of cross-branding and marketing synergies. A strong brand serves the
double purpose of legitimizing information-gathering as to lifestyle, income,
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habits and such, and valorizing the audience statistics that
subsequently derives from the information provided:
Our users readily input personal information on about their
interests and habits to explore potential matches. These comprehensive user
proles give us targetable information about these peoples lifestyles. In fact, we
know if they are pet owners, health nuts, social drinkers, or 6 feet tall. You can
pinpoint the exact audience you are trying to reach with virtually no
marketing waste. (
Internet dating appears to be a comparatively efcient venue for nding a
partner. The 2001 MSN survey of internet dating in Canada claims that
nearly half of the people using online dating services had met one to ve
people in real life. Of them, 63 percent had had sex with at least one
person that they met online, 60 percent had formed an enduring
relationship and 23 percent had met a partner (Brym and Lenton, 2001). An
investigation of Swiss online daters claimed that 23 percent had managed to
nd long-term love, and my own survey of Danish users gives comparable
Finally, Match.coms own statistics estimate that about 10 percent of
all paying users nd a partner within a year. It also seems to be a particular
group of people who use internet dating services. Although this varies
according to the particular site,
compared to internet users in general, online daters are more likely to be male
(most sites have a ration of 2 men per woman), single, divorced, employed in
the paid labour force and urban. And internet users in general are more likely
to [be] better educated and earn a higher income. (
default) also claims that its members tend to be college educated,
professionals and residents of a large city and its suburbs (
index/default). In short, it seems that internet dating users in general, and members in particular, belong disproportionately to the urban,
college-educated symbol analysts that make up the upper echelons of the
new working class of the information economy. Interestingly, in the MSN
survey, most users claim that their motivations for using dating sites had to
do with the very particular working conditions that this class faces.
Increased career and time pressures and higher rates of geographical mobility
combine to decrease the opportunities available to meet partners ofine, or
to have a social life in general. In addition, an increasingly disciplined
workplace environment (through the implementation of sexual harassment
policies) makes it more difcult to nd a partner at work, which used to be
a traditional venue. In short, caters to a symbol analytical labour
which lacks both the time and freedom to pursue its basic reproductive and
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intimate needs. But it does this in ways that makes its fantasizing and
communicative investments of affect evolve within a branded space, which
in turn makes it directly economically productive. The basic biopolitical
condition of this class of symbol analysts the mediatization of their
lifeworld and the mobility and exibility of their productive condition is
positioned as a source of surplus value.
This suggests an interesting perspective for further research. One would
want to investigate the role of dating sites (and other forms of computer-
mediated sociality, such as MMORPGs) in relation to the general
commodication of the communicative and affective capacity of this class or
symbol analytical workers. How does the use of these venues relate to the
overall surveillance and branding of their social life? How do these media t
into the rhythm of their lives? How does the particular conception of
romantic subjectivity that proposes t into a more general
ideology of self-actualization proposed by consumer and corporate culture
alike? Such a perspective would offer a view of the exploitative potential of
computer-mediated sociality; how these media can function as a tool for the
extraction of surplus value from life itself.
1 Durkheim meant that this did not apply to divorced women. He implied that this was
because women generally lacked a strong sexual desire. Such opinions were very
much en vogue at the time. Today, we tend to disagree.
2 Apparently, this abundance of fantasy material can cause fatigue. As one user posted
on soc.single (19 January 2003): Im just not feeling anything for anyone anymore. I
sit here looking at face after face and prole after prole and Im not even remotely
attracted to anyone and the proles just seem like words on a page.
3 The following discussion is based on a qualitative content analysis of an explorative
sample of 100 proles belonging to men and women looking for
heterosexual partners between 18 and 35 years of age within the Greater London
area. The sample was made up of an equal number of men and women and divided
to match approximately the ethnic make-up of users in the area (with regards to the
major categories, White/Caucasian (65%), Black/African descent (15%), Asian
(15%) and Hispanic/Latino (5%). Obviously the sample is too small to state anything
nal about differences or similarities in self-presentation across ethnic categories (and
neither has this been a primary goal of this research); the conclusions here remain
suggestive and tentative, to be substantiated by a larger quantitative survey.
4 The particular prole belonged to a 19-year-old woman who deviated from the norm in many respects. Generally, the most apparent deviations from the
norm that was observed, such as the ones above, belonged to users who were far
from the professional, urban, college-educated middle-class group that,
like most dating sites, targets.
5 I would estimate that 80 per cent of the proles surveyed conformed with this
experiential ethic.
6 Four questions on internet dating were inserted in the Danish omnibus media survey
in February 2005.
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ADAM ARVIDSON is Associate Professor of Media Studies at the University of Copenhagen.
His work is on immaterial labour and the information economy. He has just published
Meaning and Value in Media Culture
(Routledge 2006) which explores the institution of the
brand as a key embodiment of the logic of informational capital.
: Department of Media, Cognition and Communication, University of Copenhagen,
Njalsgade 80, DK 2300, Copenhagen S, Denmark. [email:]
New Media & Society
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... Trabajos como "Quality singles: Internet dating and the work of fantasy" (Arvidsson, 2006) y "People are experience goods: improving online dating with vitual dates" (Frost, 2008), refieren a la construcción del sujeto como una marca o una mercancía susceptible de intercambio, reforzando así la pertinencia de la relación entre el sujeto, los textos verbales e icónicos mediante los cuales se comunica con sus posibles interlocutores, y los atributos por estos referidos. ...
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... Transformations of digital technologies have facilitated and revolutionised how people build and maintain intimate relationships (Arvidsson, 2006;Blackwell et al., 2015;Chan, 2018Chan, , 2019Hobbs et al., 2016). Globally the widespread availability of dating websites and apps has increased the likelihood of online daters achieving intimacy (Hobbs et al., 2016). ...
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This article considers the ways in which the super-sticky all-in-one platform WeChat acts as the coordinator of a polymedia environment – and not just part of the polymedia environment – in mediating intercultural romantic relationships in the Greater Bay Area of China. Based on qualitative interviews, the article explores how WeChat coordinates a diverse range of digital communication tools for typical intercultural couples (Chinese women and foreign men) to mediate and maintain intimacy. The article contends that WeChat mainly derives its coordinator legitimacy and power from the government's prohibition of non-Chinese social media, WeChat's multi-functionality and its ‘local’ nature – Chinese language, social networking capacities and connectivity to other Chinese applications. Finally, this article finds that the power asymmetry caused by WeChat coordinating ecosystem of converged communication has significantly empowered middle-class Chinese women to take control of their intimate intercultural relationships. Research limitations and theoretical implications are discussed.
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Resumo: A informação sempre foi importante ao homem, mas é na sociedade hodierna que a informação ganha destaque especial. Mais que insumo da nova economia, a informação possui um caráter vital e o processamento e uso de informação se transfigura em labor, no sentido de atividade vital. Objetivo: Elucidar o caráter vital da informação através de aproximações teóricas entre autores das áreas de Ciência da Informação, Sociais e Humanas, cujo norte é o conceito de labor de Hannah Arendt (2005). Também busca mostrar que o esforço vital dos usuários tem sido capitalizado pelas organizações em rede. Metodologia: Pesquisa bibliográfica realizada na base Scopus com os termos 'labor' e 'informação' no título que recuperou artigos publicados entre 2006-2016. Os idiomas utilizados foram Inglês e Português. Também foram utilizados livros com diferentes datas, considerados importantes ao estudo. Conclusões: Conclui que na atualidade o processamento e uso de informação pode ser configurado como labor, que a informação transcende o homem e compõe a natureza. Ao mesmo tempo, verifica que o esforço vital dos usuários ou o fluxo da informação de si tem sido capitalizado pelas organizações em rede. Mostra que a relação entre labor e informação não é nova em Ciência da Informação, contudo, pouco explorada. Palavras-chave: Ciência da informação; Epistemologia; Tecnologias da Informação e Comunicação; Labor. 1 INTRODUÇÃO A sociedade hodierna dedica cada vez mais tempo à rede e ao uso de tecnologia. As finalidades são as mais diversas: trabalho, estudo, entretenimento, relações sociais. Contudo, o acesso e uso de informação sempre foi importante para todos os seres vivos. Todas as espécies processam, recebem e transmitem informação, de alguma maneira. Animais e plantas processam informação, transmitem sinais aos homens, ao meio ambiente e se comunicam. Estudo recente mostra que as plantas usam os fungos para se comunicar com as outras, numa espécie de rede, mesmo as mais distantes (FLEMING, 2014).
Dating apps promise a ‘digital fix’ to the ‘messy’ matter of love by means of datafication and algorithmic matching, realising a platformisation of romance commonly understood through notions of a market’s rationality and efficiency. Reflecting on the findings of a small-scale qualitative research on the use of dating apps among young adults in London, we problematise this view and argue that the specific form of marketisation articulated by dating apps is entrepreneurial in kind, whereby individuals act as brands facing the structural uncertainty of interacting with ‘quasi-strangers’. In so doing, we argue, dating app users enact a Luhmanian notion of interpersonal trust, built on the assessment of the risk of interacting with unfamiliar others that is typical of digitally mediated contexts dominated by reputational logics. From a sociocultural perspective, dating apps emerge as sociotechnical apparatuses that remediate the demand to rationally choose a partner while at the same time reproducing the (im)possibility of doing so. In this respect, far from offering a new form of efficiency, they (re)produce the ontological uncertainty (Illouz, 2019) that characterises lovers as entrepreneurs.
The present study seeks to apply the interpersonal construct of imagined interactions (IIs) to CMC, specifically in the realm of online dating, to explore the nature of imagination work while using dating apps and sites. The relationship between the characteristics and functions of IIs and the degree to which they predict dating themes of honesty, trust, stigma, and overall experience was tested. Multiple regression analyses were carried out to locate the specific characteristics and functions of IIs that are activated during the online dating process. The adapted survey of imagined interactions (SII) proved to be a reliable measure of all characteristics and functions when applied to the context of online dating themes of honesty, trust, stigma, and overall experience. Several reliable psychometrics for investigating imagined interactions within the context of online dating have been established, and support for the hyperpersonal communication model is discussed.
Declarative variables of self-description have a long-standing tradition in matchmaking media. With the advent of online dating platforms and their brand positioning, the volume and semantics of variables vary greatly across apps. However, a variable landscape across multiple platforms, providing an in-depth understanding of the dating structure offered to users, has hitherto been absent in the literature. In this study, more than 300 declarative variables from 22 Anglophone and Francophone dating apps are examined. A mixed-method research design is used, combining hierarchical classification with an interview analysis of nine founders and developers in the industry. We present a new typology of variables in nine categories and a classification of dating apps, which highlights a double mimetic-distinctive mechanism in the variable definition and reflects the dating market. From the interviews, we extract three main factors concerning the economic and sociotechnical framework of coding practices, the actors' personal experience, and the development methodologies including user traces that influence this mechanism. This work, which to our knowledge is the most extensive thus far on dating app declarative variables, provides a new perspective on the analysis of the intersection between developers and users of online dating, which is mediated through variables, among other components.
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In this essay we will try to delineate a kind of genealogy of public and private binomial identifying, first of all, the historical sense of a secular dichotomy, then turning to the eruption of the private space par excellence. In the third and last part, we will pay special attention to the democratization of intimacy without, however, forgetting how progressive mediatisation of society contributes to the confusion between public and private experiences.
In Marketing Modernity, Adam Arvidsson traces the development of Italy's postmodern consumer culture from the 1920s to the present day. In so doing, Arvidsson argues that the culture of consumption we see in Italy today has its direct roots in the social vision articulated by the advertising industry in the years following the First World War. He then goes on to discuss how that vision was further elaborated by advertising's interaction with subsequent big discourses in Twentieth Century Italy: fascism, post-war mass political parties and the counter-culture of the 1960s and 1970s. Based on a wide range of primary sources, this fascinating book takes an innovative historical approach to the study of consumption.
The book shows how class has not disappeared, but is known and spoken in a myriad of different ways, always working through other categorisations of nation, race, gender and sexuality and across different sites: through popular culture, political rhetoric and academic theory. In particular attention is given to how new forms of personhood are being generated through mechanisms of giving value to culture, and how what we come to know and assume to be a 'self' is always a classed formation.
Electronic commerce offers immense opportunities to the producers of pornographic products and services. Although this sector generates significant revenues, it is almost invisible in academic literature on the information society and the digital economy, where it is both little discussed and undertheorized. We suggest that a social shaping of technology framework may help explain current moves by stakeholders in the industry to achieve legitimacy, and that this approach may assist future analyses of commercial dynamics in the online pornography sector.