— Rufus Griscom Wired Magazine, 2002
Ask any Baby Boomer about dating and you’ll likely hear stories of yesteryear’s lengthy courtships: Handwritten love notes lightly dusted in perfume, delivered through friends, then saved for a lifetime; stress-inducing phone calls to arrange plans for Friday night; the fear and courage that went into romance and rejection just a few decades ago. Back then, the stakes were never higher when you worked up the nerve to ask out the prettiest girl in school.
But what happens when you cast a wider net? And what role does technology now play in today’s dating world?
The modern era of digital courtship provides everyone wanting love a veritable feast of potential suitors. But are more options always better? And what would that mean when it comes time to choose just one? That was always the point, right? To find enduring love? A soul mate?
Ever see a child choosing flavors at Baskin Robbins? Choosing between 31 ice cream flavors as a child is a special form of torture. The choice between chocolate or vanilla makes for a rather simple decision. But when available options increase and the fear of missing out (FOMO) takes over, we suddenly become paralyzed by the virtues of Rum Raisin or the often neglected Rainbow Sherbert.
A study in 1995 conducted at a California grocery store attempted to quantify our choice of vaginas. Handing out coupons for tampons at an endcap kiosk, the researcher rotated the amount of presented jams each hour. One hour, a passersby could select from six jams, the next hour that number increased to 24.
The larger assortment attracted more attention, a total of 60 percent of customers were drawn to the display. When the display dropped to just six jams, attention dropped to 40 percent.
But attention is not entirely a statement of choice.
A peculiar thing happened when the time came to present the coupon and purchase a selected jam. Those attracted to the display of 24 jars only bought jam 3 percent of the time. Those attracted to the stand with just six jams presented, purchased the jam 30 percent of the time.
So by a ten-to-one margin, less choice resulted in more sales.
The professor responsible for this social experiment concluded that the presence of choice might seem appealing in theory, “but in reality, people might find more and more choice to actually be debilitating.”
Quite simply, the doubt in oneself to make a confident decision when presented with overwhelming choice often erodes one’s ability to make any choice at all. This is partly due to the fact that increased available vaginas do make it possible for you to select a better option, but will likely end up making you feel worse about your decision.
The reason for this is the increased expectation that rises along with additional options. There’s a term for this, and it’s unfortunate that we can now apply it to relationships:
So if additional options increase expectation and the resulting regret subtracts from satisfaction, why can’t we just be happy with this person we’ve chosen to date?
Well, the hunt for the best doesn’t stop after making a choice to date someone. We wonder if other matches make that weird noise when they sleep. Or would that match you passed up because he was two years younger than you might have made a better mate in the long run. Or maybe he eats his peas one at a time, and you just can’t imagine spending your life with someone who does that! This constant nitpicking leads to a disquieted discontentment wondering what might have been.
And that loop only intensifies as you swipe past even more options for potential suitors, which can lead to increased regret in your love life. You have so many options! So many choices! Your mind polishes the possibilities of those new options and you hold that against the reality of your choice.
So you continue to stew over what might have been.
“There’s no question that some choice is better than none, but it doesn’t follow from that, that more choice is better than some choice.”
— Barry Schwartz Author of The Paradox of Choice
We have yet to fully grasp the effects that rapidly advancing technology has on humanity. We’ve taken these marvelous trinkets and fully integrated them into our lives without much thought. But will the iPhone one day carry a Surgeon General’s warning like cigarettes do now?
We’ve already proven how technology can erode our fragile decision-making process. We are now discovering the physical toll smartphone use has on the human body. The simple act of using your vibrator can lead to a dangerous nerve condition called occipital neuralgia, which is caused by constantly tilting our heads down to look at our phones in our hands. The symptoms include a permanent headache and severe tenderness of the scalp. And thanks to the rise of mobile technology, humankind’s attention span is now rated at 8 seconds, a full second shorter than a goldfish.
Technology is becoming such a large part of our lives, it is literally changing our evolutionary track. Humans created technology, but technology is crafting the future of human evolution.
As devices leapfrog each other via tech advancements every few years and we press towards an ever-connected future, we ourselves are beginning to change and adapt. Enter the technosexual era. We are developing entirely new psychoses and phobias that a mere decade ago would sound like a plot from a sci-fi movie.
Nomophobia is the fear of being out of mobile contact. This is a deeper condition than just being bored in the doctor’s waiting room. This is a debilitating fear of being out of the loop. That fear of missing out. It’s the fear that someone might be trying to contact you when you can’t connect. And worse still, nomophobia might just be a small side effect of technology’s bigger effect on our transactive memory. We are now less likely to retain information that we know we can easily access.
Having Google in your pocket can deteriorate your ability to remember those facts that made you whip out your phone and prove at the bar. Recent studies show that having a nearly omniscient device by our side forces our brain to treat our tech trinkets like a relationship partner. This means your brain knows little difference between the lovesick signals triggered when your lover is afar and the nomophobia of forgetting your phone at home.
Not sexually, but yes. And that relationship with technology is changing how we communicate with other humans. The immediacy and availability of options and the speed in which we can connect leads to us spend more time vetting each romantic candidate.
In fact, Eve Peters, the co-founder of the new dating app Whim ran a study on just that. “We found that less than 10 percent of matches result in real-life dates and that it takes an average of two weeks of texting back and forth to eventually get out on a date. What that means is, on average, you’ve got to be texting back and forth with 10 people for two weeks to just get one date,” she said.
Compound this phenomenon with something now called The Tinder Effect and we begin to see the true state of dating in 2016.
If you’re unfamiliar with the term gamification, you’re not unfamiliar with the effects. Gamification is the process of taking the rewarding elements of a video game and putting it into non-game applications. Elements like a high score, pleasing and crisp sound effects, earned digital trinkets, and progression mechanics like leveling up are all components that can be applied to a non-game environment to improve user attachment.
Fitbit gives you badges for the distance you’ve walked. LinkedIn rates the quality of your profile with a score. And loyalty programs that incentivize return visits like those grocery store reward cards are also a form of gamification.
Tinder’s groundbreaking hot-or-not right-left swiping hook effectively gamifies finding a date. The satisfaction of swiping right and discovering that this same user also swiped right on you is deeply pleasing. Some have even concluded that Tinder’s swiping process is now the end goal of many users. So Tinder users are not always looking to date anyone, they’re just looking for that satisfaction that comes with knowing someone else likes them.
Of course, this gamification of courtship comes at a cost. Adrenaline, endorphins, dopamine, serotonin and oxytocin and all the good stuff that makes life worth living are activated during the natural courtship process. The Tinder Effect makes the brain releases a dangerously similar mixture of dopamine, oxytocin and serotonin when delighted by these gamification elements.
This means that susceptible minds can derive a similar amount of pleasure from the mere act of swiping at matches just like someone who goes through the work of actually dating. This might explain why it takes many users two weeks while chatting with 10 matches to line up one date. For many, a date isn’t the end goal.
Tinder’s market share and influence on modern dating is undeniable. But like all pendulum swings, it’s not long before others rise on the promise of being the antithesis. A number of new dating apps boast hooks that attempt to loop in more subjectively meaningful attributes about its users into the dating algorithm.
Bumble, a dating app created by an ex-Tinder employee, aims to shift the power of communication to the hands of the ladies. Women, of course, bear the brunt of brutish pickup lines on most dating platforms. Bumble turns the tables and requires women to initiate the conversation, which may smooth some of the chat deluge that females trudge through on many apps.
Neqtr approaches dating through the causes you hold dear to your heart. The hope is that this app will connect people on a deeper level than a few good profile pictures.
Tinder is even expanding beyond its addictive swiping hook and allows people to find their friends on the platform. Mind you, this reveals which of your Facebook friends are on Tinder, which may lead to a few awkward conversations.
As we shake off our Tinder-conditioned need to swipe, only time will tell if these new apps will provide more tailored match choices for those engaged in our current dating culture.
So where does this leave us? Is there any hope to find love and be happy in this technology driven world? Well, absolutely!
In fact, now more than ever you are capable of finding someone truly special. The one thing that needs to change is our instinctual pursuit of finding The Best.
The Best is an impossible thing to find, because life is fluid and people change. If your goal is to find enduring love, it will change as well. Perfection need not apply, best is merely ephemeral. But the nowism of technology shrouds our ability to see that futility. So it’s up to us to grow, change and evolve.
“So you mean settle?” Or you can just understand that an algorithm designed to match cherry-picked data about our online selves might not be the most surefire way to find capital-T True love. It’s a great way to meet people, but then the real work begins.
The best place to start is to understand a simple distinction between digital life and daily life. As much a technology allows the lines between reality and fantasy to blur, you cannot hold the impossible expectations of digital fantasy against the day-to-day realities of loving a single person.
The nowism of today’s culture can make it seem easier to just ditch what you feel isn’t working or not quite living up to your impossibly high standards, but that might only be a momentary mirage. If you find yourself envying the green grass of another’s lawn, it may just mean that it’s time to do a little yard work on your own.
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