A How I Met Your Mother episode from season 7, “Mystery vs. History,” shows how we all have a tendency to investigate people through social mediums prior to meeting them. We view people by the information we find about them after Google or Facebook searching them, which then influences how we act towards them. Social networks provide us with whatever information people are willing to dish out about themselves and, in most cases, a great amount of data is revealed.
Ted, one of the main characters, makes a promise with a girl he just met, Janet, that they will not Internet search one another before their date. Because Ted has dated quite a few crazies in the past, his friends decide to go ahead and explore what there is to be found about Janet. Amazed by what they found, the group repeatedly texts Ted with the link to her profile, tempting him to peek at the intriguing information. Although he resists the urge to look at first, he gives into temptation while his date is the bathroom. When she returns, Ted morphs into a babbling fool and she instantly realizes that he has Internet searched her. Unsurprisingly, Ted ruined his date with Janet.
The situation shows our innate curiosity to know everything we can about the people we interact with. The Internet satisfies this inquisitiveness by providing us with multiple social networking sites that feed us the information we want to know about people without even having to discover it through face-to-face communication. This in-person discovery is an interaction I believe social media has made undesirable to us and, to an even greater extent, foreign.
Further examining the episode, you find that, aside from his curiosity about Janet, Ted sought refuge to her profile after realizing that not knowing anything about one another resulted in a boring date filled with awkward conversation. Because they didn’t have any background information about each other, Ted and Janet failed to find any interesting topic to talk about. This wasn’t because they were dull individuals, but rather because they didn’t have the familiar crutch of prior web-snooping to lean on. They appeared to lack the ability to communicate with one another to learn about each other. Instead of asking Janet about her past, Ted took the easy way out and turned to the Internet.
With the networks available to us today, we have developed a new routine for dating and, in a broader sense, general interactions with acquaintances. We look them up first and find out about them via the Internet. Then, upon meeting them, we are able to skip past the challenging phase of discovery and delve into subjects and topics that we are certain will be of interest to the other. Social networks have made forming personal connections more instantaneous, taking out the burden of uncomfortable and slow paced unearthing.
Social networking is a tool that can be utilized to find out the interests others possess and the commonalities we share with them. It can tell us whether we should avoid a person or proceed to befriend them. All of these, of course, are very positive benefits. However, has social networking, at the same time, diminished the intrigue and suspense that comes with meeting a person for the first time? Has it made finding out about during this first encounter, as well as the capability to even do so, an extinct ritual ? Why do we prefer to study the history of someone before meeting him or her rather than experience the reward of unraveling the mystery over time?