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Rapid improvement in communication technologies and the expansion of their practical uses continue unabated.Today, of course, we are no longer tethered to telegraph or telephone wires for conversation.The “confidence man” of the nineteenth century, with his dandified ruses, is replaced by the well-chosen screen name and false autobiography of the unscrupulous Internet dater.Modern philosophers of technology have studied the ethical quandaries posed by communication technologies — questioning whether our view of new technologies as simply means to generally positive ends is naïve, and encouraging us to consider whether our many devices have effected subtle transformations on our natures.On the contrary, our current courting practices — if they can be called that — yield an increasing number of those aging coquettes, as well as scores of unsettled bachelors.On college campuses, young men and women have long since ceased formally dating and instead participate in a “hooking up” culture that favors the sexually promiscuous and emotionally disinterested while punishing those intent on commitment.With technical advances came a shift in social mores.As historian Jacques Barzun has noted, strict manners gave way to informality, “for etiquette is a barrier, the casual style an invitation.” Whether one laments or praises courtship’s decline, it is clear that we have yet to locate a successful replacement for it — evidently it is not as simple as hustling the aging coquette out the door to make way for the vigorous debutante.

The telegraph, and later, the telephone, forever changed the way we communicate.Courtship as it once existed — a practice that assumed adherence to certain social conventions, and recognition of the differences, physical and emotional, between men and women — has had its share of pleased obituarists.The most vigorous have been feminists, the more radical of whom appear to take special delight in quelling notions of romantic love.Cell phones, e-mail, Internet chatrooms, two-way digital cameras — we can talk to anyone, anywhere, including those we do not know and never see.The ethical challenges raised by these new communication technologies are legion, and not new.

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