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Cory Silverberg

XOXOSMS: Can online love work IRL?

By January 13, 2012

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If you haven't figured out what you're doing on Valentine's Day yet (and if you have, how are you that organized, or into Valentine's Day?) I recommend you spend part of it with Nancy Schwartzman.

Not in person. That might be weird (after all I don't know her very well and she may have plans already). But online. You should see her online.

She'll be screening her short documentary film XOXOSMS: The Internet Love Documentary several times throughout the day, and then following it up with a live panel discussion featuring with some pretty great bloggers and writers talking about 21st century dating.

I got to see a preview of the film last night. I watched it online with my partner, who is living 500 miles away, while we were both on Skype. Which seemed fitting since the film is all about online relationships, like the kind we're having.

XOXOSMS follows Gus and Jiyun, who connect, and fall in love, online without ever meeting in real life. They eventually decide to meet in person and the film takes us along for the intimate, sometimes awkward, but ultimately fascinating ride.

The film does an excellent job of conveying the kind of intimacy that builds, and builds quickly, when you are communicating with someone online. It may resonate less for those who haven't spent hours on IM, Skype, or email, finding ways to express excitement, curiosity, desire, and longing in a medium that, on the surface of it, seems to be set up for anything but emotional expression. But for anyone who has tried Internet dating, flirted online, or even spent a bit too much time on Facebook, XOXOSMS takes you there in a way that few other documentaries have.

So much exploration of online intimacy is really just code for cybersex. XOXOSMS stands out as a rare film about online relationships that isn't about sex, at least not in any obvious way. This isn't cybersex as we know it, but it is a very real story about the way millions of us are connecting online.

What's nice is that the film offers more than just theory or talking heads explaining how, yes Virginia, you can feel something when you're online. Gus and Jiyun talk about their experiences, but they also share with us a live history of their online connections, the emails, the IMs, the Skype calls, all of which, thanks to the web, are documented and archived.

Through these interactions we're able to see for ourselves how communication technologies can simultaneously extend and produce emotional intimacy. I was particularly struck by the scenes where they are communicating online using video and text but no voice. The immediacy of the interaction and what can only be described as a kind of physical chemistry they share, challenges traditional ideas of which forms of communication are most human, most valuable, most intimate.

For educators XOXOSMS provides an invaluable tool, offering a quick way into conversations about intimacy in platonic, romantic, and sexual relationships, about sexuality more broadly, about desire and identity, and finally about technology and it's role in human interactions.

Now I wasn't joking about this being a perfect Valentine's Day thing to do. While I was watching it, both my partner and I were confused at times when we would hear familiar clicks, dings, and whooshes, thinking that the sounds were coming from our computers, announcing the arrival of some new email, IM, or download. In fact they were part of the soundtrack of the film. But each time it happened it made us aware of the ways that these sounds have come to have emotional meaning for us, and how much of our relationship currently is tangled up in technology. It inspired a conversation about our relationship, about intimacy, about sex and love, that was surprising, but welcome.

It's not a bad thing to do any day, but seems particularly welcome on Valentine's Day.

Find out more about XOXOSMS.

Get a reminder about the Valentines Day screening

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February 10, 2012 at 11:10 pm
(1) Lilly says:

I think that it can work but as with any relationship there are cautions to heed. Online is oftentimes equated to fantasy. Many people admit that it is easier to express certain emotions or talk about certain subjects when it is just text, rather than spoken word. But when the connection and relationship is online-only there is a big part of the other person’s life, and even personality, that you don’t see. In fact, you see three things: things that are genuine, things that are what you want to see, and things that they want you to see. It is easy to be fooled, and fool yourself. When the conversation is text-only, like IM or email, true emotion can be difficult to convey and so when we read the text we are overlaying the emotion that we are feeling – be it anger, love or indifference.

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