Status: In a relationship with…my cyber girlfriend
By Eleanor Stanford
In a bizarre twist to our continuing preoccupation with online identity, a new start up company is claiming to uniquely improve a man’s cyber credentials. For a small fee Cloud Girlfriend promises to connect you with your own imaginary ‘perfect woman’ whom you can communicate with publicly on social networking sites and – crucially – be attached to in your relationship status. Rather than operating as an online dating service, Cloud Girlfriend deals in ready made ‘public long distance relationships’ and will employ real women to play these fictitious girlfriends. The site’s tagline is “The best way to get a girlfriend is to already have one’, or as co-founder David Fuhriman explains, having a ‘girlfriend’ post on your wall is more likely to make real women think ‘someone else thinks highly enough of this person to date him, so maybe I should too’.” How that impressionable woman would react to the knowledge that her cyber Lothario paid for a fictitious girlfriend is yet to be seen.
Cloud Girlfriend’s conception arrives alongside further suggestion that our interaction with online identities is less than healthy. The emphasis in the product is on appearance; there is little suggestion that the ‘perfect woman’ will fulfil any romantic role save that of online trophy.
The importance of perception in the online community is also considered in a report by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) published next month. AAP found that teen depression could be encouraged by Facebook’s friend stream and the distorted positive impression of peers’ lives it offered. Apparently the pressure to compete when presenting life online in photos and exciting statuses could be distressing, a sentiment shared by those signed up to Cloud Girlfriend’s email list.
It is often assumed that an online profile represents the sum of a person and there is a fear that you are defined (online and offline) by the photos, tweets and comments that make up these profiles. Networking websites supposedly created to facilitate social interaction have in some ways added a further layer of strain to our communication. A real friend – who does indeed have over a thousand friends on Facebook – once remarked that you are only as good as your last profile picture and another made an account just so he wouldn’t miss out on any more party invitations. Small though these anecdotes may be, they are also representative of the extent to which virtual communication has infiltrated our daily lives. AAP’s survey also found that 22% of teens log onto their favourite social media site more than 10 times a day and the propensity to communicate carelessly online, in a way to which a phone call or face to face meeting is not equivalent, is found among internet users of all ages.
Many people in the public eye use Twitter as a means of breaking down public or ‘celebrity’ identity and allowing them to connect directly with Joe Public. A stream of digital thought interrupted only by the 140 character limit has lead to extraordinary revelations from Charlie Sheen in recent weeks whilst Katie Price consistently tweets on her unfair portrayal in the media. By choosing to only follow student Steven Holmes, Kanye West transformed the Coventry resident into an online star who quickly attracted 3,000 followers. Uncomfortable with the disparity between his online and human selves, however, Steven tweeted “This has been completely surreal and I really have no desire for this attention i’m just a normal person.” A recent study found that a mere 20,000 Twitters users court almost 50% of the tweeting spotlight and Steven felt the burning focus of stepping inadvertently into this spotlight. If you don’t fall into the tweeting ‘elite’ of media, celebrities, organizations and bloggers and Kanye West doesn’t suddenly decide to follow you, the preconception that the world is listening to your online voice is enticing, but deceptive.
The joys of social networking sites are clear and together with the burgeoning success of smart phones and iPads they have helped to launch a revolution in the way we communicate. However, if fears over the state of your web cred are making you pay for a fictitious girlfriend, it’s probably time to switch off the computer and go for a walk in the fresh air.