BUENOS AIRES — When it comes to online dating, time is very much of the essence. Of all the missteps one might take — an ill-conceived comment, an inappropriate emoticon — none are as troublesome for a budding relationship, it seems, as a late reply.

That's because delays prompt tension and trigger suspicions. People start imagining the worst. Their heads go places that can have a damaging effect, sadly, on matters of the heart. This is part of the findings from a group of researchers with Argentina's state-run CONICET institute studying the consequences of the digital revolution on courtship.

Would-be lovers struggled with this issue long before the internet, of course. But with digital technology, what we consider to be a reasonable wait-time has shrunk dramatically. Once upon a time someone might have waited a week or more to reply to a love letter, according to Mariana Palumbo, one of four CONICET researchers involved in a study on the online dating habits of young people, aged 18 to 24. But with smartphones and the internet, immediacy is paramount.

"Digital communication is changing the waiting thresholds, and also people's expectations," she told Clarín. "Everything happens in the time of a click or two, which of course redefines the concept of courting."

These days, relationships don't just get their start on networking sites, the researchers founds. They are also sometimes broken there. Or repaired. "You can fight while chatting, then become friends again with an emoticon," Palumbo notes.

The CONICET group also looked at how evolving applications like WhatsApp are used in — and adapted to — situations of control or anger.

Everything happens in the time of a click or two.

Privacy settings, for example, can have a major influence on other people's speculations. On social sites, selectively publicizing profile info can lead viewers to make deductions and draw conclusions.

Palumbo and her partners found that some new couples opt to forgo privacy barriers altogether by sharing passwords. "This is taken as proof of love," she says. "Romantic love has many elements of violence, control and jealousy. But these violent practices also allow youngsters to update their love, because giving their password is ultimately about conveying trust."


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