Young South Africans have taken to online dating in a big way and even the dangers of cyberstalking don't seem to have dampened their enthusiasm.
Felix Erken, MD of Junk Mail Publishing Group, says the online dating site Love Mail boasts more than 30 000 current users, an indication of just how popular the practice is.
About 32% of new users of the LoveMail online and mobile dating service are under the age of 25 – the highest percentage across a single age group. Of this, 34% are female and 29% are male, which shows that online dating is becoming increasingly socially acceptable for both boys and girls.
Around 22% of Love Mail users are between the ages of 25 and 29, compared with just 10% in the over 45 category.
Erken speculats that the enthusiastic uptake of the service amongst younger people could have a little to do with their willingness to adopt and utilise new technologies.
“Younger people are just more open-minded," he adds. "They are more open to trying new things and as part of the global village they have their eye on social trends internationally. They also don’t seem to be bogged-down by historical ideologies that used to govern social behaviour in the more conservative South Africa just a decade or two ago.
“Aside from that, technology has made personal classifieds so much sexier, transforming what was once considered the domain of seemingly dubious individuals into an efficient, credible and safe way for trendy people to meet other trendy people.
“At the same time, people are able to protect their privacy by selecting not to make their personal contact details openly available. The functionality that technology provides, such as being able to upload and view photographs, also makes Internet dating much more attractive than replying to a ‘faceless’ personal ad in a newspaper,” says Erken.
According to Erken, the number of personal adverts placed on Love Mail’s website, as well as the number of users on the site, is continually growing and this is buoyed by the equally promising uptake and growth of the mobile dating service.
Since its launch in April 2006, the number of users logging onto the site via the Love Mail mini-browser, which provides instant and easy access to thousands of love-match opportunities on the Love Mail site, using any WAP-enabled cell phone, has increased significantly. And Love Mail expects this trend to continue as internet and mobile dating become more socially acceptable and popular.
“People like using our online and mobile dating service. It’s fun, it’s interactive, it’s easy and it works. We receive numerous stories from couples who have found love through the LoveMail service."
Erken points out that meeting people online is actually safer and less threatening than the traditional blind date.
"It is also safer than meeting someone at a social event or club because you have time to scope them out from the safety of your own home and build up a trust relationship over SMS or e-mail before you actually meet the person face-to-face.
“For shy teenagers, meeting someone anonymously and chatting over SMS or e-mail until they are ready to take the plunge to meet up in person is far more comfortable because they have time to build confidence and learn more about the person.
“Not everyone has the confidence to march up to someone they like, start-up a conversation and make a good impression first time. Being young and meeting people can be nerve-racking. Furthermore, many people don’t get the opportunity to go out and meet new people, for whatever reason,” says Erken.
However, he advises all users, particularly teenagers, to take precautions when meeting people online – just as they would in the real world.
The website provides the following tips for fun but safe online dating and chatting:
* Always remain anonymous and if you decide to give out personal info be sure it's someone you can trust;
* Always meet in public places, use your own transport and tell a friend. If possible take a friend along.
* Always follow your intuition. If you don't feel comfortable then don't.
* Be honest while interacting online – you could end up meeting this person.
* If they ask for your contact number rather ask for theirs and call when you feel comfortable.
“This advice is not meant to scare or discourage people from using LoveMail, or any other online dating service for that matter. It just serves to remind people to be responsible and play it safe. Just as you can encounter wierdos in the real world, you may come across some questionable characters online,” Erken adds..