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Swipe Right: How To Avoid A Dating App Dystopia

Tinder, OkCupid, Match.com. What we once thought was the utopian future of dating is actually wounding a critical human indicator for intimacy: the click.
by Therese Sivertsson | Jun 3 2016

The future of dating is upon us in the form of matching apps, and tech’s made long-distance loverdom with someone you’ve never met more palatable than ever. Finding someone to love is now as easy as swiping right, right? On the face of it, that seems like a “yes!” but what we once thought was the utopian future of dating is actually wounding a critical human indicator for intimacy: the click.

You’ll know a click if you’ve felt it; you meet someone for the very first time and have the feeling you’ve known each other for years. Conversation flows, you get each other’s jokes, and in general, you’re happy. It feels magical, and it feels simple. But it really isn’t—clicking’s complicated.

What is clicking?

Clicking is a phenomenon that depends on vulnerability, similarity, adversity, and proximity. Revealing weaknesses and fears shows people that you trust them and makes it easier for them to open up in turn. We also tend to connect easier with people who look similar to us and who have a worldview that fits with our own, as we associate this similarity with familial ties. And when we are physically close to someone it’s easier to strike up a conversation, which is key to instant connection. Unfortunately, the way we meet one another today isn’t a fertile environment for a click to take root.

How modern living messed with clicking

We’re choosier than ever

Before travelling across the world and instant communication were commonplace, people paired with someone from their village, or even from the same building. Today, we’re not so bound by distance, as Aziz Ansari notes in his book Modern Romance:

“…the tools we have to find our soul mates are incredible. We aren’t limited to just the bing-bongs who live in our building. We have online dating that gives us access to millions and millions of bing-bongs around the world.”

This is great for cross-cultural understanding, but how about finding true love? On one hand, tools like Tinder, Match.com, and OkCupid widen the pool to search for the best fish in the sea. On the other hand, knowing that there is an abundance of potential partners to discover can make us extraordinarily picky and push us to keep looking even if we’ve found someone great.

We’re falling for mirages

Knowing that the competition out there is seemingly unlimited, people groom their online appearance to improve their chances of a right swipe. Rather than showing our true, vulnerable selves, we send out a shiny, PR-ready version. If we’re not being real online, it’s less likely that our online encounters can transform into real connections.

We’re making emotionless decisions

While dating tech may theoretically bring us closer, actual physical proximity still often lacks, which creates an obstacle to clicking. A recent study compared the interactions of college students communicating face-to-face with those of students communicating digitally. The results showed that students built the strongest emotional bonds when connecting in person because our faces show microexpressions that explain what we say.

With limited information due to physical distance, we can’t rely on a “click” to help us know if a person has potential. Instead, we make split decisions based on looks, age, background, and interests. We rely on perceived similarities and attractiveness, and might end up dismissing people with whom we could have clicked in real life. After all, research shows that digital media has trained us to apathetically swipe to the next profile, impeding our ability to develop the patience and empathy needed to build and maintain real relationships.

What happens next?

So how do we make the future of dating brighter? Until the Hyperloop is up and running and holograms are a household staple, a solution proposed by behavioral psychologist Dan Ariely just might work: virtual dates.

Ariely posits that as opposed to how online dating works, a real-life date shouldn’t be like a job interview in which you hide your real self in a fancy suit, get peppered with questions, and hope that you’ll be chosen. Rather, a date is an experience shared by two people. By observing and experiencing the way our date acts and responds to the world around us, we get a much better feeling for who they actually are. To simulate this experience, Ariely created a website through which visitors could explore a virtual space with the help of an avatar, making the online dating experience much more like the real-life one.

The virtual space had pictures and images, words, movies, and bands, and when participants encountered an avatar, they could start chatting. He found that the conversations people had were more personal, focused on getting to know one another and exploring the virtual space together, with the result of an increase in first and second dates being scheduled.

Instead of ruing the loss of the click, we just might be able to keep alive its human magic well into the future by meeting one another in virtual reality. Swipe right to that.

On clicking, conversing, and connecting

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