For a communication class, earlier this week I was required to write a paper on relationships formed online. While writing this paper I learned many things that surprised me about online dating here in America. I learned that online dating is a 1.25 billion dollar industry, with over 41 million Americans trying online dating annually. Though I knew that online dating had grown more prominent in recent years, I had no idea that in 2013 11% of American adults had tried an online dating website or app. Learning how widespread this was in my country, I became curious of what online dating was like in other parts of the world, specifically the Middle East. Though online dating may not be the first thing people think of when considering the Middle East, I learned that in recent years online dating in this region has emerged and is only growing larger. It makes intuitive sense; as I’ve discussed in a past blog the population of Internet users in the Middle East has been growing rapidly, and will continue to do so. As more and more people gain access to technology and to the internet, more and more will be likely to participate in these online dating sites. But, will it looks the same as ours does here in America?
One of these sites, called et3arraf, claims to have been the first Middle Eastern dating platform. Their slogan is “for Arabs, by Arabs, in Arabic”. It was interesting to me that much like how there are many different sites for finding partners of specific groups here in America (christianmingle.com, farmersonly.com, beautifulpeople.com), the same has been apparent in the Middle East. et3arraf acknowledges that there are often Middle-Eastern cultural constraints that prohibit people from meeting and interacting freely, and that there site therefore offers people an opportunity to do this safely. et3arraf works much like any site you are already familiar with; participants are screened in an “affinity matchmaking quiz”, and are then paired with “compatible” partners based on their answers. This formula has proven just as successful there as it has here, after launch and without advertising the site managed to accumulate 56,000 registered users. It is most popular in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Morocco, and Jordan. Interestingly, a surprising 84% of participants report that they have met at least one person through the platform, a much larger user meeting percentage than many of the sites attest to here in America. Despite the success of et3arraf, in an area with such violence and divisiveness between groups, one must remain conscious of the cultural limitations and potential problems when discussing an online dating site. People may face legitimate danger when trying to interact with someone of the opposing group. A blog, called PalesTINDER, has been posting excerpts of online daters’ conversations online. Though some may have a slight humor to them, the real separation and danger facing two individuals wanting to connect in this region can be terrifying.
The development of technology and it’s consequences in the Middle East has been interesting to observe. It is fascinating to me to see the ways that modernization can clash or be influenced by a particular culture. Online dating is a specific phenomenon that has taken an impressive flight in popularity in the western world, and is now beginning to emerge in the Middle Eastern region. I am curious to see the way that this type of technological relationship building develops in the Middle East as compared to with America or other western countries. With the many conflicts and variables present in the Middle East that are not present in other parts of the world, I predict connecting with others online in this area to be a different experience with it’s own unique circumstances.