11/30/2010 12:23 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Facebook's New Messaging System Embraces Techno-Romance

Facebook runs out of an office comprised primarily of 20- and 30-somethings -- so it's no surprise that they understand the appeal and inevitable ubiquity of techno-romance for our Millennial generation. I mean, let's be honest: it's a company full of young people! $20 says that most of them spend all day flirting with each other over Facebook Chat anyway.

Techno-Romance -- or the rampant use of technologies to cultivate and explore romantic, sexual and flirtatious interactions, and even relationships -- is simply a fact of life for those of us growing up in this tech-saturated age.

I dare you to show me a relationship, casual or serious, that started in the past year and didn't involve a single text message, email, Gchat conversation or Facebook wall post. And despite the persistent misconceptions of older generations who fear that we youngins are using technology only to coordinate torrid late-night hookups and nonchalantly keep our options open, we are actually using technology to develop meaningful relationships.

We BBM the way that other generations talked on landlines, often lasting all day and for hours into the night. While we don't always succeed in avoiding the miscommunications and mixed signals and etiquette complications that are so prevalent in technological interactions, we are at least trying to deepen our connections with others through all the forms of communication that are now available to us.

Yes, those 140-character Twitter shoutouts included. Every little exchange counts these days!

As a youth-fueled company, Facebook obviously sees this genuine deepening of personal relationships via technology -- romantic and otherwise -- as a no-brainer. Hence the platform behind their new messaging system, aka the "Gmail killer." Sure, it's not a viable replacement for business purposes...yet. But from a social standpoint (and aren't the boundaries between professional and personal breaking down in today's 'business casual' environment anyway?), the three key features of this new system cater to three core characteristics that we Millennials seek and value in our relationships, as well as in our romantic interactions and our lives in general: a sense of speed and immediacy, a way to instinctually organize our ever-expanding networks of people, and a focus on meaningful, nuanced, complex, multi-faceted connections with others.

Given Facebook's proven ability to operate one step ahead of the mainstream and fulfill needs that most of us didn't even know we had, their new messaging system is poised to become a powerful leader in the next phase of social media innovation. And once our social and personal needs are being met, then the tweaks to make it business-appropriate will likely come.

The first Millennial romantic tendency that Facebook's new messaging system is addressing is our desire to communicate how we want, when we want, in whatever way is most convenient. We are a generation that prizes passion and instinct and progression over steady, methodical thinking -- and in our romantic lives, we have embraced quick, instant communication in the form of technologies like Skout and Grindr. Even the delayed pace of text messaging can seem too slow for those who prefer the immediacy of BlackBerry Messenger (while conducting nationwide interviews for my book on modern romance, I am constantly hearing that BBM is the primary way that the young professionals around the country are talking and flirting with each other).

Of course, the easiest way to communicate can depend on your circumstances -- are you sitting with your email open at a laptop, or walking down the street texting on your phone, or IMing in between conference calls? Facebook is acknowledging this need for convenience and speed by modeling the system off of chat programs and consolidating all these forms of communication into one place, where you can instantly receive pretty much any type of message that someone would want to send you. You get the BBM-like feeling of instantaneous dialogue without needing to have every single physical piece of technology surrounding you at all times. We Millennials don't like to wait -- even (especially?) when it comes to flirtation and romance -- and now it seems like we won't have to.

The second Millennial-friendly feature is the new social inbox, which allows you to exert more control over whose messages you receive in what priority order. Facebook makes the point in their blog post explaining the new system that, for our generation, messages from our friends (and crushes and gaggle members and significant others and spouses) are more "meaningful" than our less personal interactions. Technology has caused our networks and affiliations and To Do lists to increase exponentially, and our inboxes and phones are currently overflowing with newsletters and bills and spam and outreach from people and organizations who haven't yet earned a solid place in our network. The more we try to frantically keep up with everything, the more fragmented and overwhelmed we become -- and the less likely it is that we're doing a good job of keeping in touch with the people who actually matter to us.

Facebook gets that we are a generation of communicators who believe in forging meaningful connections, even as we try to do that with more people than anyone would have previously imagined possible. We don't always have the infrastructure to prioritize accordingly. So with their social inbox, users will only see messages from friends and, if they want, friends-of-friends, relegating all other communication to an "Other" folder that can be modified by the user.

We cannot fall in love without first building and finessing genuine connections with people who genuinely matter to us. That process can sometimes get lost amidst the chaos of technological communication -- but Facebook is doing their part to make that prioritization a little bit easier.

Finally, love it or hate it, the fact is that the Millennial generation is known for breaking down boundaries and rewriting the rules. No one embodies this spirit of innovation more than Mark Zuckerberg and Co. And not only do we aim to forge new paths in professional, technological and artistic realms, but in personal realms as well.

The lines between friend, co-worker, mentor, professional contact, romantic prospect and lover are all blurred these days. We are nuanced, multi-faceted individuals, and we prefer to interact with people who are as well. Yes, we often tweak our communications, and by proxy ourselves, in order to fit the mode of interaction that we have chosen. We're slightly different people over text versus email versus IM versus wall post, and we are used to shape-shifting when necessary. We simply see these many variations of ourselves as part of a larger, more complex whole of a person.

We don't see ourselves as a collection of subject lines, but as deep, rich, profound individuals.

It then makes perfect sense that Facebook is fundamentally altering the focus of technological interactions from Topic to Person by grouping all your interactions with one person (instead of one subject) into one ongoing chain - similar to the way in which iPhones save and show your entire texting history with someone in the form of a long, neverending conversation. This shift in perspective is huge: to recognize that we now see our worlds and our lives in terms of people, and not things or ideas, is somewhat revolutionary.

Facebook's instructional video promoting the new system explicitly appeals to the romantic and emotional sensibilities that fuel techno-romance. Remember how your grandparents could only communicate with each other via snail mail letters? And how they kept all those letters in a shoebox, allowing them to document their entire courtship in one place? The video tells us -- well now, you can do that too!

Your entire history with one person -- all the texts and IMs and emails and messages - can be stored together, and you'll be able to access that for the rest of your life. You'll get to sit down in front of the computer with your grandkids and show them every silly, confusing, ambiguous piece of written communication between you and your paramour. Every little detail and quirk of your relationship will be there to see. In a sort of twisted, voyeuristic way -- how romantic is that!

As usual, Facebook is thinking ahead of the curve by anticipating that our generational movement towards immediacy, social prioritization and meaningful, long-lasting relationships will result in a new style of technological communication. Techno-romance is an inseparable facet of modern interaction, and Facebook's innovations are only further encouraging us to think outside the box in terms of forming true connections amidst our overstimulated, fast-paced environment.

Who knows how quickly -- and with what revisions -- this new messaging system will impact techno-romance and communication at large. But in the meantime, it's a significant step forward in the quest to have technology enhance our relationships, instead of simply complicate them. It gets the techno-romance stamp of approval.

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