Gartner analyst predicts 'virtual marriages' by 2015

Bride and groom will fall in love, marry and never meet

Will you marry me (in Second Life)? A Gartner analyst is predicting that 2% of U.S. citizens will get married in virtual worlds by 2015 to people they have never met, and may never meet even after they are married. These online virtual marriages will carry all the same legal implications of marriages that take place in the "offline" world, the Gartner analyst claims.

Virtual brides and grooms may never, um, consummate the marriage, but they will have the same joint property rights as your mom and dad, claims Gartner research analyst Adam Sarner. Hospital visitation rights would be the same as well, though that would require an in-person meeting.

"If the virtual person that they've never met before is dying in a hospital somewhere, they will have the right to go visit that person," Sarner says in a phone interview.

Sarner's claim comes shortly after an artificial intelligence researcher predicted that humans will love and marry robots by 2050.

Sarner is making his prediction of virtual marriages at various conferences in a PowerPoint presentation describing "Generation Virtual," and its implication on marketing and human relationships.

Sarner predicts companies will spend more money marketing and advertising products and services to virtual "personas" by 2020 than they do in the physical world. He also says at least one city will elect a "virtual anonymous persona" to be its mayor by 2020.

In one quite limited sense, his marriage prediction is already reality. You can get married in Second Life, but it doesn't hold any legal implications in the real world.

Sarner acknowledges that U.S. or state laws would have to be changed if virtual marriages are to be given the same force of law as real marriages.

"This would be pending legal requirements. If enough people ask for it, something changes. If it's not legal, some of them will do it anyway," he says.

Sarner has been at Gartner for nine years and researches marketing automation and how companies can build relationships with customers. He has degrees in psychology and business.

Sarner calls his marriage forecast a "maverick" prediction but insisted in a phone interview that he will be proven correct

People are already forming friendships online and receding from in-person relationships, he notes.

"I think the online connection is powerful enough to have these legal marriages online," Sarner says. "The point is the emotional connection they have will be strong enough that they want to make it forever."

In Sarner's future world, people who get married online to a person they never meet would not be legally able to marry anyone else, real or virtual. It's one marriage per person, just like today.

People who choose a virtual marriage with someone they've never met may find there are connections powerful enough to transcend the physical aspects of matrimony, Sarner believes.

A good online marriage would provide "an emotional connection with someone who cares about what your day was like, who cares if you're feeling down," he says. "I think it can be quite fulfilling. Is it something for everybody? No, absolutely not." Just as many people have miserable marriages today, virtual brides and grooms might find themselves in failed marriages too, according to Sarner.

Sarner's presentation extends well beyond his marriage prediction, focusing largely on how companies must adapt to the online world to successfully market their products.

Marketing to "Generation Virtual is being able to target these groups of customers who are spending more and more time online, even though their real names might never be known," he says.

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