Love in the time of social media

In the 2009 Hollywood blockbuster, Transformers: Revenge Of The Fallen, the hero, Sam Witwicky, goes off to college leaving his girlfriend, Mikaela Banes, behind. But before he leaves, Sam sends her a package…

Sam: “Guess what? I made you a long-distance relationship kit. Yeah, I got you a webcam, so we can chat 24/7. All Witwicky, all the time.”
Mikaela: “Sounds cute. I can’t wait…”

Like many other couples, the fictional couple of Sam and Mikaela are about to embark on a long-distance relationship or LDR. In 2005, according to The Centre for the Study of Long Distance Relationships, there were an estimated 4 to 4.5-million college couples in the US engaged in non-marital LDRs. The same study estimated that 3.5-million married couples in the US alone were involved in long-distance marriages, with 1 in 10 marriages reported to have included a period at long distance within the first 3 years.

The advent of the internet has had a massive impact on LDRs, making them less challenging to sustain via the modern tools of communication. Although LDRs can be perilous, and require a deep commitment from both partners, they are only temporary states aimed at sustaining real, tangible relationships, until the couples can be reunited.

Let’s take a look at some of these technologies that people use to keep the flame alive while they’re apart:

Social Media
Even though you might be far apart, keeping track of your partner’s life is easy through social media services like Facebook, Twitter and Foursquare. Often overlooked, Google’s Latitude service can be a fun alternative to Foursquare, which allows for real time tracking of your partner’s adventures. Be warned, if you’re insecure about the relationship, these geo-location services that track your partners movements will only make you feel worse.

Services like Daily Mugshot and Daily Booth are also great services that encourage frequent communication through the exchange of pictures between one another.

Although inherently social, all these services allow for private accounts which mean you can allow only your partner access if you’d like to keep your exchanges private.

Costs incurred through frequent long distance cellular or land based telephone communication can quickly skyrocket. Voiceover IP services such as Skype used in conjunction with a good data plan are a much cheaper option and can represent a major windfall for couples separated by great distances.

Through smartphone services like RIM’s BlackBerry Messenger or “BBM” Voice Memos you can be comforted by your partner’s voice. BlackBerry smartphones come bundled with unlimited data plans as standard, which means features such as Voice Memos and Skype (on select carriers), remain very feasible.

For many people, email is still the number one form of electronic communication, beating Social Media services in a recent survey.

Recently, my girlfriend brought a great service called Your Fonts to my attention. Your Fonts is a fun way of personalising emails by allowing you to create fonts based on your own and your partner’s handwriting. Install the fonts on both your computers and have fun reading email exchanges in your partner’s handwriting.

Blogs encourage longer format writing than their short burst, drive-thru social media counterparts like Twitter and Facebook. They’re great for journaling your time apart, or expressing emotions that are better said than bottled up. Tumblr is a great blogging service that allows you to create new posts, but also helps you find and share your thoughts with like minded individuals who might be going through similar experiences.

Another thing to do around blogs is to read liveblogs together as they are happening. If you share a particular interest, it can be a lot of fun taking part in a live event as it unfolds.

Possibly the most vivid and intimate of all the mediums, it’s good to know that long distance couples are spoilt for choice when it comes to video.

The best service for live video calls, without a doubt, is Skype. Branching out from it’s computer-based beginnings, Skype is quickly becoming a cross-platform consumer solution, reaching as far as mobile phone handsets and televisions.

Noteworthy mentions are FaceTime, Apple’s fledgling foray into video calling, Qik with it’s aim to “Share Life As It Happens” and Logitech’s Cam TV, aimed at living room video calling.

In today’s world, video codecs are becoming less of a problem. Sharing a clip of an amazing event or a short movie you produced in iMovie is easy as most video playback devices, and video hosting services, have a wide of range support for all types of video formats. Services like YouTube make it easy to create groups, and adjust privacy settings to share videos between two people.

Finally, applications such as iChat allow for screen sharing. This is not only for technical support scenarios, but can also be fun as part of a shared online shopping, or web browsing experience.

Instant messaging
SMS as part of a traditional telephony service is useful for short bursts of communication, but can become costly with frequent exchanges. Instant messaging services that work with less costly data plans are a better alternative, and are the staple of most long distance relationships.

The more popular Instant Messaging services are Skype, Google Talk, Yahoo Instant Messenger, AOL Instant Messenger , Windows Live Messenger, WhatsApp and aggregation applications such as Adium, Pidgin and Trillian are the best ways to consume these services.

File Sharing
Exchanging files via email is not always feasible. Services like Mediafire and Dropbox make file management easy, and often provide faster upload and download speeds. These services act as repositories for any types of media that you might like to share and features excellent security options.

Missing birthdays, anniversaries, Valentines Day or any other important holidays need not happen with the wealth of online shopping services available on the web today. Music from iTunes, audio books from Audible, flowers from Teleflora, and Amazon for everything else, have taken care of the gift problem once and for all.

PillowTalk is the work of university student Joanna Montgomery.

She has developed a system that uses sensors built into elastic bands and worn around the chest which record the wearer’s heartbeat and send it wirelessly to the partner’s pillow in real time. The pillows glow softly, and hold Arduino boards which contain transceivers from a Polar exercise watch, along with speakers and lights. Unclear? Check out the instructional video.



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