The State of Dating: Technology and the Commodification of Love

The people in my generation date like it’s a compulsion. Perhaps we are afraid of being alone, but all this Tindering and Instagram and social isolation in the face of using media to connect with people who may or may not be there leads me to believe that it’s not the fear of being alone, it’s the fear of other people thinking we are alone, and also what will we find when we’re alone. We sit at bars and engage in dating apps like we’re at the grocery store trying to determine what the best deal on toilet paper is, except there are thousands and seemingly endless options of toilet paper, so what makes this toilet paper better than the other? Although, really, the question is, what happens when we take this toilet paper home and use it and have to see it every day and live with the decisions we’ve made?

This is the convenience of the dating market and the principles of capitalism as they are applied to your love life. We sell ourselves to other willing buyers, listing attributes like features on a new car that will make us more desirable. In turn, we look at other people as a summation of skin color, and hair color, and job, and location, and hobbies, and education as a way to determine whether or not someone fits into our mold of what is and isn’t acceptable as the archetype for our romantic partner. It is only after engaging in the selection process that we are able to take our chosen mate home, throw them into bed, and demand a satisfactory sexual experience with no prior context. Based on these few factors, we can either return to the dating market to find another partner, or we can attempt to initiate a long-term relationship with our newfound partner. Oh, the brave new world of dating.

It sounds fairly bleak, this notion of the self as a product in the dating market. It’s dehumanizing, at the very least, and has nothing to do with hook up culture. One of the main tenets of hook up culture is that it is about hooking up, not finding a long-term partner. The transparency of hook up culture allows people to explore temporary, dissolving sexual connections with other people. Sex on the dating market isn’t about exploring the ephemerality of human pleasure, but, rather, sex on the dating market is about marking people as failures who do not fall into the categories of “potential partner.” We dispose of those who are not fit and move onto the next one.

Apps such as Tinder have served to amplify the concept of the dating market. The dating market certainly existed before Tinder, but just as many other apps have helped to create an economy of convenience for users, Tinder has eliminated the need for mutual friends or money spent at the bar as a mechanism for meeting people. This isn’t to say that every connection made on Tinder is going to be bad or that no one can find meaningful connections on Tinder; this is just to say that Tinder leads to a culture of dating that minimizes social responsibility for other people’s emotions. This, in effect, increases the advent of a social Darwinism that hinges on the arbitrary elements of what is and is not attractive in today’s society.

Ultimately, this is harmful to women because what is and isn’t considered attractive on the dating market has nothing to do with what it takes to maintain a loving, stable relationship (i.e. the reason why we’re on these apps), and in turn creates an echo chamber of hysteria about what it means to be a woman on a dating app. Ultimately the dating market just sells us romantic wolf tickets; theoretically the person who attains the best qualified partner on the dating market should be happiest in his or her romantic relationship, but we all know that this is not true because the nuance and dynamics of human interaction cannot be reduced to qualities listed on a dating profile.

The solution to the problem is awareness of its causes. While Tinder can create a great opportunity to meet new people, the abuse of dating apps goes hand in hand with untenable social standards for relationships to create a whirlwind that artificially inflates the demand on the dating market for fresh meat. New media tools are supposed to be the cure for our loneliness, but constant access to a device that is not being filled with notifications from people who want to talk to us is only cause to remind us of how lonely we really are. New media has created a void that new media is attempting to fill. And it’s not making us happier. Because new media will never supplant the human element of real connection, regardless of how many apps you have.

Likewise, because new media creates a void that it in turn tries to fill: the goal of dating is to find someone who will fill the void created by new media. The goal is to find someone who will light up our phones, and hopefully, in turn, our eyes. But the thing about the void created by new media is that it is ever expanding. Not to sound pessimistic, but this is true because it is true of the nature of capitalism; its goal is to create a constant need. While this might sound bleak, the only way to combat this ever expanding void is to acknowledge it, acknowledge how ridiculous it is, and refuse to cave in to it. We have to refuse to continue buying this idea of other people as products we can use to assuage the loneliness and paste over the emptiness. All the technology in the world cannot replace real human connection. But this is hard to remember when we are constantly surrounded by technology that is always trying to replace our human connections. Succumbing to new technology only serves to further alienate us from each other.

This isn’t about unplugging, or deleting your apps, or going off the grid, or logging off Facebook. The fact of the matter is, new media tools can be used as an excellent means to connecting with other people. But we must remember that these tools are merely the means to the end, and not the end in and of themselves. Experiencing human connection is hard, but logging onto an app and feigning your way through meeting new people and experiencing attraction is easy. If we allow these apps to operate removed from the human connection that we came here to get originally, then that only perpetuates a culture of dehumanizing dating.

There is a time and a place for many of these new technologies, but we must hurry to realize when and where that is before they fundamentally warp our sense of human interaction. The application of capitalist principles to your love life only serves to create a disconnect from the person and an investment in a product, which is no way to go about treating people. Although, at the end of the day, what dating apps really sell us is the idea that romance can save us from the boredom and pain of our mundane existence. Which is probably why it’s best to remember that no dating app out there – and probably no person, either – can save you from yourself.

Photo Credit: Denis Bocquet/Flickr