participant's perceptions about the use of the Internet in relationship building are the perceptions of family and friends, the news media, and advertising campaigns aimed at increasing the use of the internet in that regard. That the study group, college age participants, would rely on the experiences of their family in forming ideas and opinions about the use of the Internet in forming relationships, is reasonable and not just supported by this study (Figure 2), but corresponds with earlier studies and reports from sources such as the Pew Research Center, which found that 31% of American adults claimed to know someone who had had an actual relationship forming experience via the Internet; and 15% of American adults, or 30 million people, indicated knowing people who have been in long-term relationships arising out of those experiences (Madden & Lenhart, 2006). Thusly, the college aged participants' perceptions arising from family, parents and other adult relatives would largely be a positive perspective.
That the student/participant's perceptions are more inclined to be influenced by the experiences and perceptions of friends and family is supported by the study, but the study does not reflect that there is a Belief and Social Norm construct that impacts the participant's perceptions. This can be understood by the fact that the use of the Internet in relationship building and dating is a fairly new social construct in and of itself, and that it has been embraced by society, thus incorporated into the belief system and parameters of normalcy by which society would measure and gauge itself, as is indicated by the numbers cited in the Pew study (Madden & Lenhart, 2006).
However, the study conducted here suggests that the participant's consider their belief systems and what they perhaps understand to be "social norm" as two distinctive components of the social system (See Table 2). Here we find there is need for further study in order to both collect additional data about those perceptions as they pertain to the questions asked of the participants, and to determine if this is in fact a relevant finding as concerns the perceptions of the study group regarding the topic. Or if in fact it indicates an ambiguity posed by the question that is reflecting itself in the study; it does under either circumstance warrant further investigation and should be taken up by subsequent researchers and investigators.
There is, too, information available through the previously mentioned Walther studies (1992, 1996) that demonstrate that certain areas of consideration that would constitute the structure of "social norms," are eliminated through the medium of Internet-based relationships; at least initially. That the inhibiting tendencies that play upon an individual's confidence and manifest themselves through physical behavior or facial expression or body language are no longer factors, and thusly eliminate certain "social norms," since they no longer are important factors having been eliminated from the initial meeting via the Internet medium. Again, this anomaly concerning the lack of support for the constructs of conventional goodness wherein this study demonstrates that the Beliefs and Social Norms are not supported by the data, warrant a closer investigation.
Table 3 indicates that romantic relationship building is a strong motivating factor in Internet use, and this is supported by prior studies. The number of people who, prior to the use of the Internet as a relationship building source, and who remained without relationships because of the varying range of factors that impacted their lives in the more conventional face-to-face relationship building ways, where their self-perception and self-esteem might be impacted by a lack of confidence, which is not conveyed to the person in whom they find themselves interested using the Internet as the medium (McKenna et al., 2002, p. 28). The opportunity to establish a going forward relationship based on common interests, and less on physical attributes, eliminates much of the discomfort from the initial relationship building process, and - if we are to believe the study results and based upon the expediency with which the use of the Internet as the medium for initiating relationships has taken hold - can serve as the conduit by which to completely eliminate the need to physically assess a person before deciding whether or not that person is a good match.
Tables 4-5 raise questions about some of the data that was generated in the earlier tables, and here, again, there is a strong need for further investigation in future studies as to the relevance of the findings in Tables 4-5. While Tables 1-2 indicate and strongly support the perceptions of family and friends over that of news and ads as the basis upon which the study group formed their perceptions, Tables 4-5 cast a shadow over that information since it does not support that data. or, the conclusion might be, that indeed the perceptions of family and friends as reflected in Tables 1-2 is accurate, but the study group is relying more on their own perceptions than those of their family and friends as pertains to the questions posed in the research on the topic of Internet relationships.
That the study group might be less influenced by the ideas and perceptions of others should not be a surprising facet that might reveal itself in the group selected for participation. It is, after all, this group that has been raised in an environment of emerging technology, and they have watched while over the past two decades the technology by which they were surrounded in their own environments increased, and the user-technology aspect increased exponentially with that increase in the physical appearance and user-technology attachment in their environment. Here, again, the study has raised a potential need for further on-going study and investigation.
The variance in the data could mean, too, that the impact of news and ads on the participants is far greater than indicated by Tables 1-2. That, too, should not be surprising given the demographics of the study group. Today, the college aged person is targeted by commercial industry in ways that involve the use of technology in promoting technology, and to promote bigger dollar items than ever before aimed at their age group. The cost associated with staying "connected" is no small cost, and add, too, the cost of the technology itself by which to stay connected.
The motivation to comply, Table 3, indicates that there is strong approval among the study group that supports the positive perspective towards relationship building via the Internet. Employing the Fishbein and Azjen (1980) method of starting with a relatively large set, then select a small subset of scales that exhibit high internal consistency for the final attitude measure proved useful, and the data yield though surprising is nonetheless reliable and compelling. The data available concerning the motivation to comply is supported by prior studies, and by this study. It further supports, too, that the opportunity to establish a non-physical relationship, that is, a relationship based upon common interests rather than physical interests is more desirable today than ever. Thus, we should not find it at all surprising that given this information, and perhaps in consideration of other social trends which the study group and most of us are well aware, that the trend in this direction is growing stronger and that the technology being produced now is aimed towards that end.
In Table 5, again, we see that the suggestion as to how online romantic experiences are perceived comes less from family and friends, and more from the participant's own perceptions. The data in Table 5 supports previously stated needs for further study and investigation since here, too, there is a question as to whether or not the research question posed an ambiguity in the mind of the participant, or whether or not the participant has the experience that is being question and is responding less from the question criteria and more from their own individual experiences. Table 5 would suggest that the participants are drawing from their own experiences, and that they are less influenced by media stories, ads and the perceptions of family and friends than previously believed, or as indicated in Tables 1-2.
Again, too, Table 5 supports the theory that there is distinction in the minds of the participants as to the distinctness of social norms as being a non-factor, possibly indicating, again, that the use of the Internet in building and maintaining relationships has thusly become embedded in the social behaviors of most of the participants such that there would be no distinction between its use and the "social norm," since it has now become a normal social function.
The limitations posed by the study are minimal, and the results can be considered reliable. That the data produced some conflicting information is to be expected in the research area, since the Internet and its use as a forum for initiating and building relationships is in the early stages of trial and error, is to be expected. So long as people continue to feel the Internet facilitates their personal goals…