Online personals, e-dating and matrimonial Web sites are changing the rules of how relationships are formed and maintained in communities all over the world. In societies where dating itself is taboo according to social and religious norms, online matrimonial services are filling the gap left by the absence of social networks in societies transitioning to urban and modern culture. Since there are no established mores about using online media, the online matrimonial services mirror existing social practices. As the technology is used and appropriated by users, both social practices and the technology evolve. The use of online matrimonial services provides an interesting illustration of the social construction of technology.
The use of technology demonstrates a tension created by the affordances provided by technology and entrenched social traditions and practices. The use of online services has diluted the societal norms about socializing among opposite sexes but at the same time preserved traditional notions of compatibility by providing easy access to information about religion, caste and community. Although it is still not acceptable to go out on dates, online relationships are considered acceptable and allowed to continue over extended periods of time without parental supervision. Men and women who are seeking life partners are playing bigger roles in arranged marriage but still consider parents to be the final arbiters. Gender stereotypes continue to persist as women do not wish to give the appearance of driving the process but feel comfortable using the technology to actively participate in the process.
Online matrimonial services are not adopted as an instrument to bring about social change. To be accepted by families, they need to reflect and perpetuate societal and religious traditions and values. As they are recurrently used, the possibilities created by technology and its appropriation by users, creates a new equilibrium that reflects the new social reality created by technology and users. In the case of online matrimonial services, the subtle influence of technology cannot be overlooked as the use of online content, instant messaging and e-mail is expanding the influence of the younger generation over their elders in arranged marriage to create a new social norm that bears closer resemblance to western notions of marriage.
This has implications for the social construction of similar technologies in different societal and cultural contexts. When introducing new technologies with social implications such as cell phones and wireless services, the initial adoption ofthese technologies is only likely to succeed if on the surface these technologies mirror the traditional norms ofbehavior and social interaction. However, the appropriation of these technologies by users over a period oftime brings about changes in social relationships and interactions. These changes, in their own way, change the structure and features of the technology, further driving social change. For example, India is one ofthe largest growth markets for the use of mobile phones and the phones were first used in India by affluent families and for business uses; over a period of time as prices came down, they found their way to the lower middle class, the rural areas and the self-employed such as street vendors and maids. In line with the new social classes that have adopted mobile phones, the technologies themselves changed to encourage usage, such as the predominance of pre-paid phone plans, long battery life and the use of am/ fm radio as a standard feature, as these phones are used as music players by a majority of the population. This has further fueled the growth in the market of these phones in India.
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