Dating in captivity: creativity, digital affordance, and the organization of interaction in online dating during quarantine

Theory and Society 53 (2):273-302 (2024)
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Abstract

Unprecedented times compel new ways to explore relationships. Using interviews with dating app users quarantined in American cities at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, I show the impacts of digital mediation on the highly scripted interactional patterns in dating. Drawing from the literature on creative action, temporality, digital affordance, and the materiality of cultural objects, I examine how actors access the creative opportunities in digitally mediated interaction. I find that dating partners creatively mobilized the affordances of digital technologies to approximate a dating script in organizing online interactions, which simultaneously allowed them to formulate relational narratives with varying deviation from the scripted temporal structure. I identify three aspects of digital affordances offering creative opportunities: the dissolution of spatial-temporal boundaries, the production and circulation of digital objects, and the connection between contexts. Taking advantage of an extraordinary moment of cultural and interactional rupture that necessitated digital solutions to connect, this article demonstrates how digital technologies unsettle culturally institutionalized interactional patterns and the formation of meaningful relationships.

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