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Swipe Left: Online Dating

As we continue to amble through our tech-saturated 21st Century, one of the realities we have had to face is that attraction and interaction are not necessarily mutually exclusive anymore.

The days of walking up to someone in a bar and introducing yourselves have now been usurped by exchanges of pleasantries via an online thread, a tenuous element to be dangling by.

Threads, after all, have to snap eventually

So, while an iPad allows for a person to carry an entire library with them wherever they go, we are all more than aware that it won’t spoon them under the covers at night. Given the resources at our fingertips, the prospect for human connection might seem limitless. However, with the detachment that comes from texting and private messaging, it is becoming increasingly reasonable to assume that, in fact, the opposite has happened.

It’s pulling us further apart

Which is where Online Dating comes in. There are few other elements on the internet that have embraced and capitalised on that innate human desire to find that special someone, by whatever means you have at your disposal. Conversely, it is also the only element of online social interaction that caters to the cripplingly shy, as well as the voyeuristic and experimental.

Highly profitable, the total annual revenue for online dating is around 1.9 Billion dollars, and according to Forbes, there are now more than 8000 dating websites worldwide. 1 in 10 adults, in the U.S. alone, use dating apps. The most popular of these is Match.com, closely followed by Tinder, an app that has even entered the mainstream pop culture, with its ‘swipe left or right’ means of either dismissal or acceptance. And while it took a sceptical world at least 10 years to truly embrace this means of connection, the dating website has now become a commonplace means of finding that significant other.

Less Meet-Cute more Tweet-Cute

The history of dating online may only start to register in 1994, with the launch of the first dating site, Kiss.com, but the desire for connection through means other than face to face goes as far back as 1685, when the first personal ads were printed in British newspapers. Craig’s List, in 2000, may have been the digital, online extension of this, but in the 50s, university students were utilising statistics with the aid of computers, in order to see if they could create the perfect match amongst a handful of volunteers, based on aspects such as taste in art, sexual appetites, and various other intimate questions.

The communal experience of sharing content, images, screenshots, etc, gives a rich tapestry of just how much information we all leave behind. The issue being that, it can create a fairly schizophrenic, fractured picture of a person. Everybody wants to be liked, desired, part of a particular group. The internet has merely capitalized on that. And like music, film, magazine covers, the internet has always catered towards the young.

And the horny, the amount of alternative dating sites that cater towards sexual hook ups, rather than potential life partners, outnumbering the legitimate ones by a wide margin.

Personality can never truly shine through in an online structure. Nobody puts their flaws out for all to see, and the few that do tend to be ridiculed for it. Instead, they craft a version of themselves. For example, according to research undertaken by eHarmony, Men lie about money, while Women lie about age.

Essentially, online your personality is a Ferrari, while in reality, you are Honda.

More worrying is the idea that said person can actually find themselves aspiring to be the persona they have created. The notion of simply ‘being yourself’ is no longer a viable quantity. Indeed, teenagers tend to try and create the best version of themselves in social environments anyway, so the opportunity to do so, without the added pressure of face to face interaction, is so desirable that it is no surprise to find that these avenues have proven so popular.

via GIPHY

Online dating simply does not exist without images or the interactive capabilities of social media and aesthetics are now the clear frontrunner to any connection, since the first initial impression made from any dating profile is what you look like.

But even this is a red herring, as the numerous filters and photoshop apps available, can give whatever impression one wants.

The problems arise, as always, due to human flaws, rather than programming or code. Sure, a match might be made by an algorithm that doesn’t quite fit your tastes, but more often than not, this is to do with false information, provided by the user.

And false information is everywhere, which has, in the last decade, weaved its way into the public conscience with the exposing of a particular online problem known as Catfishing.

Essentially, catfishing occurs through fake profiles, photos, information, misleading the prospective match, often for monetary gain through emotional manipulation. It’s a hugely commonplace problem, as interaction via screens and monitors are limited by an aspect ratio, and the catfish uses this to their advantage, crafting a persona, a lifestyle, indeed a life, at once desirable, as well as plausible, safe in the knowledge that in all probability, they are never going to meet anyway.

A con, then, but with all this disconnect, where can we possibly go from here?

In Spike Jonze’s Her, a man falls for his operating system, a Siri-like A.I., that sounds like Scarlett Johannsson, a scenario that explores the notion of just how far you can go with the technology you hold in your hand.

And there is the rub. Phones, tablets, laptops, all sell us the illusion of connection.

But from the moment we put them down, our hands are empty.


Chris Watt

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