With just a few deft taps at our keyboards, we can overcome time differences, distance and costs of travel to be with someone, or conduct a particular task. The coming of age of the internet continues to change the ways we learn, shop, chat and date.
An article in last week’s Herald newspaper is a testament to the fact that two people worlds apart can manage to connect and organise a traditional marriage ceremony all the way in Mutoko, only to meet after they are customarily husband and wife; a love story of how a man based in South Africa and a woman living in an Australian village met and married… all with the use of Facebook, Skype and Viber.
While arranged unions have largely been looked upon with contempt and dismay by many, it would seem that in some ways, online dating sites and agencies, as well as online platforms that promote communication with new people are helping to facilitate the growth of relationships, something which may not be necessarily happening as organically as it used to.
Ironically, the more internet savvy we become, the less time we have in the material world. And the more we turn to online platforms to help us meet each other.
The growth of online services
There is a small number of online services in Zimbabwe, facilitating the growth of relationships across space. One such is Maruwa, a site that sells flowers online.
Maruwa’s Founder and Director, Tichaona Bvunzawabaya, highlighted that through their service they can deliver flowers all over the world. Considering that families and lovers are often separated for different reasons, it feels to him like the service is playing a major role in maintaining relationships.
“We get most of our orders from the diaspora,” Bvunzawabaya noted. “Very few people order from Zimbabwe and I think it is because locally, the culture of sending flowers is not very common.”
Karen Bean, Partner and Director at MyZimstore – another online gift service – echoed similar sentiments stating that the company gets limited orders from Zimbabwe, with a larger market abroad.
“We don’t just buy and deliver gifts,” Bean said. “We package and deliver according to the sender’s specifications such that we try and create the feeling that the sender is present.”
MyZimstore sells gifts for different occasions.
With many people moving to different parts of the world for economic and social reasons, these online services and platforms offer an opportunity for people to sustain the romance in their relationships.
In an article last month, Tech Zim noted that Zimbabwe was ready for a game changer in the internet dating sector with a youthful population, coupled with growing access to the internet, pointing to a new market for local online dating services.
But just how comfortable are Zimbabweans with tech-mediated love?
In discussions initiated by Her Zimbabwe on social media under the hashtag #LoveandTech, it became clear that Zimbabweans had vast perspectives when it comes to relying on technology to sustain relationships. From discussions, it emerged that many appreciate the convenience of reaching someone at any given time, but doubted that lasting relationships could be made online.
“Technology has given us better communication and connection technically but it has removed proper human communication like real conversations,” posted Temba Rwambiwa on Facebook. “Things are moving too fast and because it allows you to communicate under a veil, these have led to a decrease in morality and self respect.”
Rwambiwa argued that people have resorted to statuses and profile pictures as a way of communication and have lost the real essence of making a connection in real life through face-to-face conversation and contact.
Some responses on Twitter dismissed the idea of a Skype dinner in the event that two people in a relationship happen to be apart on Valentine’s Day or any special occasion. They argued that an online dinner killed intimacy as there would be no direct contact.
At the same time, technology has been blamed for causing misunderstandings that have resulted in the premature end of some relationships, with WhatsApp being cited frequently.
WhatsApp does not only tell you when your message has been delivered, but goes further to reveal whether the recipient has read the message by displaying two blue ticks to the sender. Some followers complained that the blue ticks – without a response – arouse various feelings and thoughts that include anxiety, jealousy, insecurity and fear of the unknown which compromise trust in relationships; one becomes suspicious when they do not get an instant reply, even if it is clearly shown that the recipient is online and has read the message.
Of course, the accuracy of such features is also questionable.
The fact that technology has also made communication cheaper cannot be ignored. Service providers are often running promotions that are making social media platforms – and therefore, communication – cheaper to access.
Zimbabweans, however, seem to be shying away from using online dating services, though indicators point to romance in the country moving more and more towards this route.
Phyllis Matsate cited dishonesty as the main reason that makes online dating less desirable. She highlighted that people tend to share false information in the hope of attracting suitable partners for themselves. This in turn puts the hopes of a lasting relationship in jeopardy as the other partner is likely to discover the truth in the long run.
For Elizabeth Chikore, online dating does not offer an opportunity for her to get to know the ‘real person’ she would like to be involved with.
“Being in a relationship with someone online will be the same as dating a stranger, so for me it is a no no,” said Chikore.
Evidently, while loves remains elusive for many, tech is creating both positives and negatives for Zimbabweans online to ponder. At the end of the day, it’s not the medium, but the emotions that count.
Main photograph is from www.chicagonow.com