We live in a world of instants. Instant news, instant food, instant sex. We used to marvel at everything being a click away. Now it’s almost unacceptable if something can’t be achieved with just a tap. Tech doesn’t just provide a service anymore. Through suggested algorithms and targeted ads it saves your brainpower, minimises your thinking.
What should I believe? Believe this. What should I eat? Eat this. Who should I fuck? Well..
With the likes of Tinder and Hinge, dating is compartmentalised, and at first, made clearer. These apps are designed to find people who are like you. You’re meeting someone who, on paper, could have everything you want. Someone who you know you’re attracted to, who you know shares your interests. So, you pour yourself into the app, presenting an idealised version of your personality, to try and be cool, funny and good looking – and your match does the same.
Even if you try desperately to appear as ‘real’ as possible in your profile, that’s only based on your judgement of what your ‘real’ self is. In reality, someone sitting across from you in a bar might judge you as a completely different person to how you judge yourself, for better or for worse. So, automating the dating process creates a bunch of conflicting issues and this isn’t even accounting for the impact the technology may have on our dating outlook.
Tunnels and echo chambers aren’t just restricted to a twitter feed. Hinge’s award-winning algorithm aims to find your perfect match. Once it thinks it’s found your preference, it fires these personalities at you repeatedly, getting a ‘type’ stuck in your head like a broken record. It’s ‘Most Compatible’ feature is the clearest example of this algorithm at work, but of course, it’s not restricted to just this.
As you trawl through profiles, the app not only learns based on the type of people you ‘like’, but the type of people who ‘like’ you. As time goes by, the profiles you see become more and more targeted. What you eventually end up with is narrowed down to what Hinge has decided is your ‘type’. This might be one you’re aware of that matches your experience of dating in the real world, or one that Hinge has identified (correctly or incorrectly).
For example, it might mean that almost half of the profiles that pop up are 28-year-old men who work in finance, live in Chelsea and went to private school. It might be that they’re all international students with an interest in politics. And of course, these targeted profiles won’t just share similar occupations and hairstyles, but habits and behaviours too. Sounds great right?
Well, it depends. Hinge is one of the more personality-focused dating apps – it’s designed to oppose Tinder, designed ‘to be deleted’. But as expected, everything we see online isn’t real. Hinge’s brand identity is based on bridging this gap between reality and dating apps. But no matter how good artificial intelligence is, it’s still artificial and has room for error when deciding something as emotionally-charged as who your next partner should be.
Whatever your views on the topic, these apps are now a fundamental part of many people’s lives. Yeah, some might get them out of boredom, and not even look at them most of the time, but even just their existence has fundamentally changed the whole dating and relationship culture. They’re an extension of social media, for better and for worse. The fact you can pick up your phone and potentially meet the love (or shag) of your life in seconds is mind-blowing. The potential to learn about yourself and your preferences can be endless by getting to know far more people, much quicker than you ever could on your own.
But the downsides too can be pretty destructive. In the 90s, the dating game was growing more complex, but by our standards now, it was still so simple. Look at the classic sitcom Friends for example, Joey goes on a date, has sex with his date, then is a lovable dick by never calling his date afterwards. The rest of the cast also go on dates, then agonise over how long to leave it before they call them, so they don’t seem too keen. That was pretty much the level of technology influencing dating and the decisions that had to be made around it.
The dating game today makes that example look childish by comparison. Blue ticks, ‘last seen’ and social media activity can drive daters insane. But even if by some miracle it doesn’t, the space digital relationships have to develop in isn’t a space suited to human instinct at all. How you present yourself over text becomes a crucial part of your partner’s impression of you. A method of communication that doesn’t have any of the nuances we crave – a look in the eye, a laugh or a smile. Sarcasm’s a fucking nightmare.
What I’ve laid out are some of the practical difficulties the world of dating apps have in store for us. But they’re just that, they make the process difficult, not awful. That being said, deeper issues can come from serial dating. It goes like this – match, meet for a bottle of wine after work, talk about yourselves for a few hours. Repeat. This form of dating again and again, days apart, can be problematic for other reasons. The old-fashioned way of dating was a much slower process, by investing in each other slowly so that each meeting is more meaningful. But the cutthroat nature of dating nowadays comes from everything being just a tap away.
Options everywhere can mean that sometimes, everything is meaningless. The problem with being thrown into someone’s life full-throttle is that you can be thrown out of it just as easily. That is just the reality of the new dating setting. You connect, and disconnect, quickly.
The likelihood is that experiences like this once in a while don’t have much of a risk of affecting you long-term. But repeated experiences like this can. It can distort your whole perspective. Its vapid, meaningless nature can cement itself in you. Ultimately, it can make you cynical. For a lot of people, none of this will apply. Some can operate in this space and be fulfilled. Different settings work better for different people. But in a world dominated by all this technology, it’s worth exploring the downsides too before getting stuck in the game. 1 in 5 relationships now start online. Those are good odds, but who knows if they have lasted? The modern-day dating experience isn’t objectively bad. It’s not all deceitful, or short-lived.
But a lot of it also isn’t real.
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