In 1998, a romantic comedy revolving around the Internet's growing popularity as a means of meeting people in secret became an instant classic in my book. It wasn't just because Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan were adorable in their roles as rival book business owners who didn't know they had already met in lighter circumstances, as that kind of masked-love-mystery has happened before (Shakespeare's "Much Ado About Nothing" is a great example). No, the real spark of novelty came from how the then emerging trend of anonymous texting was constantly being highlighted, and for good reason. The late 90s were a boom period for online communication, and, as one of the greatest ISPs of the time, America Online dominated the digital realm of communication (hence the phrase, "You've Got Mail"). It was only right that the movie used this as a back door to an immortal conundrum: "Can love be found masked or in the open?"
Today texting is still thriving, and in the online dating world this has yet to be fully supplanted by video conferences despite the fact that bandwidth has increased far beyond the sluggish 24k speeds of old. Much like YGM, many who choose this route even go so far as to omit images from profiles and discussions until the very last minute when they finally meet. At first this suggests that we live in a very paranoid society, yet there are good reasons for this kind of behavior. With privacy, you're buffered from relationships that turn sour as you can easily change screen-names, addresses, etc, so that you can make a fresh start in a social community. Stalkers, as uncommon as they may be, are a real concern now just as they were twenty years ago before computers were commonly available. Being open about yourself makes you vulnerable, and often it's best to keep it that way.
Of course, the issue of masks swings both ways as we are social creatures. Do you really know for sure that someone is who they say they are? What happens when the person you hope to meet turns out to be your enemy, as was hit home in the movie? Under such circumstances, you may not like the side of someone that you just discovered. You may even, perhaps, be confused as to whether masks are worth a broken heart, even though they afford a good deal of personal protection in different ways.
To make matters more complicated, masks are a universal fact of life; both of YGM's main characters gave up their initial relationships after discovering their false foundations, and that was with people they knew face-first! Indeed, sometimes the virtual world can be more honest than reality.
Fortunately for us, the answer to this paradox is a very old one, one in which YGM emphasized so beautifully. The best way to go about falling for people online or off is not to totally reject or embrace masks, but to recognize that some doors must be opened by secrets to get to doors that lead to to truth. Joe Fox and Kathleen Kelly hated each other at first, yet they would never had appreciated their better sides later on had they been upfront from the beginning through e-mail. Given enough time, they eventually get together thanks in no small part to Joe's willingness to keep his alias with Kelly until the final act, where masks were no longer necessary.
The Internet has merely made masked mass-communication easily possible, and those who understand how to take off their masks at the right moment will find it easier to date than those who don't. Taking a page of this wisdom from You've Got Mail will go a long way toward finding that special someone the next time you decide to chat with invisible friends, as well as make the film's replays all the more enjoyable.