Thursday, November 11, 2010

Reflections on internet-based relationships in the movie "You've Got Mail" (1998)

It was interesting to revisit the opening up of Meg Ryan’s character to a stranger online.  I can’t help but reflect back twelve years ago when 90% of the internet user population was located in richer, more industrialized countries which accounted for only 15% of the world’s population (Thurlow, 2004).  Compare that statistic to 12 years later, 2010, when internet usage in the Asia-Pacific (APAC) region of the world made up almost 42% of the internet user population of the world.  Interestingly, countries that have the second (India) and fourth (Indonesia) largest populations in the world have very low penetration rates of internet usage at 7% and 12% respectively.  With this additional growth potential in APAC, I hypothesize the balance will surely shift in the near future to over 50% of the worldwide online presence being represented by the Asia-Pacific region, lead by China.
Had this geographic diversity been represented when “You’ve got mail” was filmed in 1998, would Meg’s character have felt as comfortable sharing with a complete stranger?  According to German sociologist Ferdinand Tönnies, Gemeinschaft, or small and intimate communities, when combined with locality, or sharing a common geographical setting, creates space for intimate sharing and relationship development (Thurlow, 2004).  In 1998, the western-centric spread of internet technology assured Meg’s character that she shared a common socioeconomic community, since 90% of the users on the internet were from richer and more industrialized nations.  Would she have made the same choices, considering the complex cultural and linguistic mix that is now tapping the internet?

Miniwatts Marketing Group.  (2000-2010).  Retrieved from
Thurlow, C., Lengel, L., Tomic, A.  (2004)  Computer Mediated Communication; Social Interaction and the Internet.  Sage Publications, London.


  1. Hi Lynne!
    Your site is great! I know you said it took you all day to set it up - and I believe it! I would love to try it myself, and maybe I will. Keep up the good work.
    I can also appreciate what you said about Meg Ryan's character. Nowadays though there are quite a few online dating sites, so maybe people aren't quite as leery as they used to be about who they talk with online. Could it possibly be that because we still can't see each other, we still feel 'safe?'
    Sandy Aggen

  2. Thank you Sandy for the feedback. The content is sparse at this point but it will grow!

    I like your question about the relative anonymity of online relationships due to lack of visual identity. I think that does increase our comfort level with a false sense of security that the other cannot find out who we are. I found it interesting as well that Andrea Baker, in her research, found that the more mediums one uses to communicate (text, video, social media sites), the more likely the relationship is to develop into an offline relationship.

  3. Great observation Lynne ! The fact that i am getting to this blog post from India - corroborates your idea !

    - Jagan

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