Love is out of ink: Valentines in the age of the 'emoticon'
Once upon a time, men and women of culture grabbed a quill, dunked the tip in ink, and penned away.Skip to next paragraph
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"My angel, my all, my very self," wrote Ludwig van Beethoven to his still secret "immortal beloved" in 1806.
"Sweet incomparable Josephine, what a strange effect you have on my heart," wrote Napoleon, in December 1795.
"I will cover you with love when next I see you, with caresses, with ecstasy," wrote Gustave Flaubert to wife Louise Colet, in August 1846.
Such sentiments – parts of longer, handwritten letters – were then posted via coach, horseback, or windjammer.
Today, they leave at a click and arrive in a nanosecond anywhere on the globe. Instead of ink stains, they may be peppered with smiley-faced "emoticons," links to YouTube videos, a Facebook picture page – and perhaps a blog entry opining on the state of love today. The handwriting would be history.
"Beethoven would likely have sent an MP3 file with a musical jingle," says Sam Yagan, CEO and founder of OKCupid.com, a free online dating service. "Voltaire would have sent an online dating profile. Since he was short, Napoleon probably would have stayed away from the webcam. Creative people would have had a field day."
As seen through Valentine's Day 2007, Cupid-speak may never be the same.
"Valentine's Day is a perfect match for the Internet," says Ben Elowitz, CEO of Wetpaint.com, a website that helps Internet users build a personal page blending the technology of blogs, forums, and wikis – an ever-changing file to which others can add content. "The Web is all about spontaneity, and so is love."
Services like Wetpaint not only facilitate the creation of multimedia digital shrines for loved one – they also make love statements public. Some users even encourage visitors to vote on whether the couple will make it to the altar – or predict which one will break up.
"With social networking websites, you send a love note and it's gone," says Kevin Flaherty, vice president for marketing at Wetpaint. "The new idea is to express your love with a permanent video or a whole picture album and make it public."
There are differing generational views on the new options – as conversations at any local wired coffee shop will reveal.
"Matchmaking and social-networking sites are going crazy with Valentine's Day," says Penny Hargitay, a 20-something clicking away on a laptop at a local Starbucks in Sherman Oaks, Calif. She welcomes the explosive growth of Facebook, the college social network, because it means more kinds of messages can be crafted – and she can keep track of who courts whom.
By monitoring the "news feed" function of her Facebook account, she is tracking the Valentine's messages and gifts exchanged by her friends.
"Everyone I know is doing this," she says. "Since the last time I logged on there are dozens of poems, essays, and at least 20 gift icons showing who is getting gifts."
Joan Grundtvig, a retired school teacher sipping a chai tea latte at the next table, says investing that much time in "other watching" is outrageous.
"Kids today are so busy text messaging and writing e-mails, they think it's too much trouble to pick up the phone and call, let alone actually write a Valentine," she says.