‘Love, love will tear us apart’ – technology’s impact on dating

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The elaborate romantic pageant which is Valentine’s Day has got us at MTM thinking about the impact of technology on the often-painful quest to find ‘the one’. Technological advancements, in particular the proliferation of dating apps, have radically changed the way we look for love, but is this a good or a bad thing? Is technology changing the nature of relationships or is it merely adapting to our changing attitudes to love?

Swiping right

The 1976 sci-fi film, Logan’s Run, saw the male protagonist selecting a sexual partner via remote control through a teleport machine. Now, whilst advancements in teleporting have been limited, the ease with which Logan was able to find a partner bears some resemblance to our fast-paced dating world in which love is only one ‘swipe’ away.

Gone are the days of personal ads, the internet has revolutionised dating. Arguably, the internet’s involvement in affairs of the heart has been a good thing, facilitating relationships between individuals who might previously have struggled to find love. Dating apps are now ubiquitous; according to The Mirror, they are responsible for creating 14% of current relationships, and almost 17 million singletons in Britain use them to find love.

Popular dating apps

Tinder is the most popular app, with 55% of Brits claiming to have used it, but as the San Francisco Chronicle points out, there is an app for everyone. There are increasingly niche dating apps catering to all tastes and facilitating searches based on everything from age, height and sexuality to occupation, religion and even your stance on Brexit.

Here are some of the apps which have piqued our interest:

Bumble (launched in 2014) is often referred to as the ‘Feminist Tinder’ and puts the power in women’s hands; only allowing them to initiate first contact with their prospective partner.

Coffee Meets Bagel (launched in 2012) is frequently described as the ‘anti-Tinder’; taking a highly selective approach to matches, it distinguishing itself through a radical focus on the quality as opposed to the number of the matches it offers.

Happn (launched in 2014) uses GPS tracking to present you with a list of people you have literally crossed paths with.

Hinge (launched in 2013) gets personal, by introducing you to people who are already in your social network i.e. people you share Facebook friends with.

Hater (launched in 2017), perhaps a sign of the times, matches you based on your mutual dislikes, be it a hatred of the ‘liberal elite’ or the ‘alt-right’.

The cost of instant gratification

The 2015 Vanity Fair article, ‘Tinder and the Dawn of the Dating Apocalypse’ drew attention to the potential pitfalls of online dating and the rise of dating apps. The article paints a bleak picture of online dating in which sex is the primary goal and a ‘hit it and quit it’ mentality trumps any sort of intimacy. It also raises the issue that dating apps have become a vehicle for disrespectful male behaviour towards women, citing the wave of dating apps launched by women in response to the sexually explicit messages and photos they receive from men.

An article in The Memo takes issue with our ‘swipe right’ culture, and claims that the rise of dating apps such as Tinder, which encourage us to judge potential lovers in a nanosecond, indicates a society that has become obsessed with pleasure and instant gratification. As an article in The Atlantic points out, dating apps ‘facilitate our culture’s worst impulses for efficiency’; in an arena where you often need to allow feelings to develop and grow, judging someone from a single picture or on a single date eliminates this possibility.

The Atlantic explores the non-committal nature of online dating and cites a 2016 study of an unnamed dating app, which found that 49 per cent of people who message a match never receive a response. The article refers to the ‘chill’ factor in which the default stance is being open to ‘seeing where things go’ but never committing to anything. It also claims that dating apps are a disincentive for the more high-stakes romantic opportunities, suggesting that people would prefer to retreat to the safe space of online dating and avoid approaching friends they like.

Beyond online dating

Technology’s involvement in relationships goes much further than facilitating initial contact. As the BBC Three programme Levine on Love explores, FaceTime and Skype have made it possible for relationships to be started and sustained online and there is a growing range of tech available which seeks to overcome the lack of physical intimacy which challenges long distance relationships. ‘Pillow Talk’ is a wristband which seeks to bridge the long-distance gap by allowing you and your partner to fall asleep listening to each other’s heart beats, whilst the company We Vibe has created a sex toy which can be remotely controlled via an app.

On the flip side, media companies are also developing ways to help their users better manage a break up. Last year, Facebook introduced a function dubbed ‘take a break’ that allows people getting over romantic relationships to control how much they do or don’t see their ex. Similarly, the mobile app ‘Mend’ ushers users through a 28-day heart-break cleanse, where each day has a short audio training session emphasising self-care, reflection and maintaining a healthy distance from your ex.

The response from TV

Dating in the modern age is undoubtedly a complex business and since the success of Blind Date, the TV industry has sought to represent the diversity of this fast-changing world. The success of shows such as Take Me Out, First Dates, Married at First Sight, The Undateables and Naked Attraction, demonstrate the UK public’s appetite for having the quest for love (in its many forms) transmitted onto their TV screens.

The Guardian picks up on the desire for authenticity in TV dating shows, referring to a ‘refreshing frankness’ evidenced in shows such as ‘First Dates’, said to be a fitting antidote to lack of realness and intimacy in online dating. It also cites the return of Blind Date as representing a backlash against the ‘travelling selfies and unsolicited intimate photographs’ which permeate modern dating. In this age, the article argues, a return to ‘Blind Date’s pre-watershed virtuousness’ is needed more than ever.

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If you would like to discuss the effect of technology on dating in further detail, please don’t hesitate to get in touch. An extended version of this article is available on our website.

About Matthew Macaulay

Matthew Macaulay is a Research Manager at MTM working in the qualitative team. He is particularly interested in youth trends and the impact of changing perceptions of gender on the media landscape.