Digital Cult: Is Online Dating Making You Socially Awkward?

If you want to be happy, learn to be alone without being lonely. Learn that being alone does not mean being unhappy. The world is full of plenty of interesting and enjoyable things to do and people who can enrich your life.
-Michael Josephson
Dating is about finding out who you are and who others are. If you show up in a masquerade outfit, neither is going to happen.
-Henry Cloud

In 1993, Gary Kremen saw the future in online dating; he knew the need for love was ubiquitous, so in 1995 he launched the first online dating site, Match.com, an online community where singles could connect; the rest was history. Today, tens of millions invest in dating sites every year; it seems everyone is looking for love online. According to a 2019 Pew Research Center survey, three in ten U.S. adults say they have used an online dating site or app. And while technology has made it easier to find a potential partner, it has also reduced singles from three-dimensional people to two-dimensional displays of information.[1] Dating apps have also resulted in cognitive overload. It is almost like a video game in which we do not select people; we are selecting options. As singles continue to sign up, the corporations flourish while their customers become more socially or romantically awkward.

Can digital love replace physical love?

In the online dating world, the chances of people getting married are few. Roughly only 12 percent of online dating sites users reported marriage or long term commitment.[1] In some instances, the relationship leads to friendship, but many end up in heartbreak. Part of the problem is that while it is comfortable to sit behind the computer and converse, it can potentially lead people to be socially awkward if all they do is communicate via online chat. People who use online dating sites should make it a habit to get to a level where they can share via telephone and eventually plan an in-person date. The notion of only communicating via messages and having no personal interaction can ultimately lead to not speaking in person.

In her 2012 TEDTalk “Connected, but Alone?,” Sherry Turkle, Professor of the Social Studies of Science and Technology at MIT, discusses how our excessive reliance on online communication is making us less capable of deep interpersonal connections. Turkle is concerned that people do not know how to be alone anymore. We rely on technology to find attention whenever we need it, which leads to a false sense of security.[2] And the more we dive into technology to feel secure, the more we lose our sense of reality. Hiding from real life has become easy; texting, email, and social media has allowed us to create the version of ourselves that we want to be. People have become accustomed to one-word text and short emails so much that we sacrifice deep conversations and getting to know people. Thereby the paradox: online dating can be successful for a person who already knows how to communicate in real life.

Match AlgorithmsEdit

Online dating has been a catalyst for matchmaking for over twenty years, yet people are still dissatisfied with their relationships’ stature. There may be a commercial reason for that. Violet Lim has been in the dating industry for over fourteen years. The online matchmaking she founded with her husband has matched over 100,000 singles. In her August 2018 TEDxntu talk,[3] Lim spoke of how dating algorithms’ created by companies like Match Group, the primary purpose is not to match you with your “perfect mate.” “swipe left” “ swipe right” every year, billions are swiping. Algorithms are set up to keep you in an endless cycle of matches to keep singles logged in longer. But with more matches comes more rejection - which can lead to being more disconnected or lonely. Lim points out that we may be so caught up in superficial criteria that we lose focus on significant criteria such as kindness, reliability, and trustworthiness. Thus many different dating websites can be a trap for everyone looking for rush rewards and gratification, especially now that it has become the “it thing” to date online. Even Facebook added an online dating option in 2016. So while Facebook originally was a way to connect with families and friends worldwide, it is now trending to make love connections.

Swiping RiskEdit

While searching for love, online singles can put themselves at risk, at risk of identity theft, online harassment, and scammers. The instabilities and cruelty of society far too often have the dating scene appearing distorted. Lim explains that not everything on dating apps is accurate and that it is difficult to get an exact representation of a person from possibly altered photos. The MTV reality-TV documentary Catfish which examines the truths and lies of online relationships is a perfect example of this. This show has shown people falling in love, only for the person on the other side of the computer to refuse to meet on FaceTime and, in some cases, talk on the phone. All these are major red flags that should not be ignored, but far too often, singles get caught up in wanting to find love, and when they have exhausted all other options, and ignore the red flags. Red flags are not always apparent: scammers will request personal information such as your address, pretending to send you romantic gifts. Still, in all actuality, they want to steal your personal information. According to the FBI annual 2019 Internet Crime Report, 19,473 people were victims of romance scams.[4] A romance scam is usually a fake profile that scammers create to gain their victim’s trust and scam them out of money.[5]

The BotsEdit

Additionally, before stepping into the online dating world, you need to know yourself, what you are looking for, and, most importantly, why you choose online dating versus the option of organically meeting someone the traditional way. Lim agrees that dating apps are meant to connect people, but all the generic profiles and faulty algorithms make it harder. The companies who run OkCupid, Tinder, Plenty of Fish, and Match.com are all interested in the same thing: click for profit. Lim gives an example of a single man signing up for a dating app; he receives a message from what seems an attractive young lady, but then he must pay when he tries to reply. And while many singles do so thinking they are responding to genuine messages, it’s an automated message sent by a bot. Some dating apps even create bots to lure users into paying.

Online dating comes with many issues. Let us take Josh Rivera, the editor for USA Today,[6] who dives right into bots and online dating scams in his article "You may be matching with a bot." Users Carlos Zavala from Washington DC and Frankie Heart in Tokyo said they had seen bots on dating apps, even more now during the coronavirus pandemic. Like all chatbots, dating-app bots are coded software that simulates a "chat" with users by utilizing natural language processing. These bots can be so advanced that many people fall for these tactics. Ruby Gonzalez, head of communications at NordVPN Virtual security, warns users that "Despite Tinder being one of the smoothest and easiest-to-use dating apps, it's full of fake accounts and bots that can ruin the whole user experience."[7]

The IllusionEdit

While dating apps are a platform for finding love, it may all be an illusion; some singles are going online looking to feel desirable. In 2010, John C. Bridges, a professor, writer, and speaker, wrote The Illusion of Intimacy, covering the online dating process, intimacy issues, and how illusion and fantasy distort reality and shared online dating problems. Describing online dating as the “new form of hope,”[8]

Digital dating may very well be a Phantom

Bridges claims that in the online world, people are likely to engage in behaviors they usually would not in the real world because they are behind a veil. In chapter four of his book, Bridges explains that “[his] interviewees tell stories of people who have deliberately posted old photos of themselves that are not accurate representations of how they appear today or have posted photos that are simply the most flattering."[8] The online dating world is all about perfection, searching for the “perfect relationship,” where in reality, there is no such a thing as a “perfect relationship.” According to the Pew Research Center, about seven in ten online daters claim it is common for those who use online platforms to lie to appear more desirable. There are many fake profiles on dating sites, even some planted by dating sites to lure users. That kind of deception and false hope can affect users. About 45 percent of Americans who used dating apps say they were left feeling disappointed.[1]


Love Lockdown

Since there are so many online dating problems, one must ask whether online dating is worth it in the long run? It is essential to understand why we feel the need to turn to these platforms. For example, we were hit by the coronavirus pandemic earlier this year, which has changed how people socialize because they must quarantine, socially isolate themselves, and find other ways to spend their time. The use of dating apps has grown because of being forced to stay at home. Tinder, one of the most common dating apps, has seen a significant increase in user engagement. Tinder claims that since being told to quarantine due to coronavirus in March 2020, users have sent an average of 52 percent more messages. In the article “College students are still finding romance in a pandemic, through Zoom crushes and actual dates,” author Annabelle Williams discusses the shift in campus dating due to the coronavirus. Some schools prohibit close contact with anyone outside of roommates; other schools like the University of Georgia recommend students wear masks while hooking up--then withdrew their statements when met with ridicule. Williams explains that traditional dating that allows you to present yourself during an actual interaction has ceased to exist. She claims dorm hookups, once a staple of college, has mostly become a thing of the past. She refers to “masked first dates being the new norm. She explains that the shift in campus life makes it harder to find romantic partners, social circles, lab partners, and gym partners, and all have been virtually replaced by Zoom and dating apps. And while some students are coping, some are getting bored. Scout Turkle, a senior at the University of California, Berkeley, says the pandemic has made what she calls “convenient intimacies less available. Turkle has been hooking up with her housemates because she says, "it does feel like a huge deal to lose [her] only clear opportunity for physical intimacy during a time it does not feel available to [her]." Williams explains that this desire for intimacy is why dating apps on campus are increasing in popularity. For students, the pandemic is a cause for concern when dating because in-person contact can pose a health risk, and dorm restrictions do not make it any easier.[9]

Graph based on data by Mary Meisenzahl in "Match Group subscribers increase since Feb/29/2020." Business Insider. Aug 5, 2020.

Research before the pandemic had already shown a connection between loneliness and compulsive app use among students. According to a new study conducted by Kathryn Caduto, a doctoral student in communication at The Ohio State University, single people who use dating apps on their phones suffer from loneliness and social anxiety. The user experience was recorded in the article "What compulsive dating-app users have in common," written by Jeff Grabmeier, senior director of Research Communications at Ohio State University. A total of 269 undergraduate students participated in the study. The participants were asked a series of questions to gauge their isolation and anxiety using dating apps. Those who already showed signs of stress agreed more to statements like "I am more confident socializing on dating apps than offline." The results did not surprise Caduto; she says, "[i]t's a problem [she] has seen firsthand. The lonelier users are, the more likely they are to go on dating apps."[7] People with higher levels of social anxiety chose to meet people on dating apps rather than in person. They also preferred socializing with their app matches without meeting face-to-face. Researchers found that users who are depressed are more likely to turn to dating apps for affirmation, which leads to more negative outcomes. Participants also reported missing work and class because of their frequent monitoring of dating apps.

ConclusionEdit

Dating apps offer limitless possible matches at your fingertips, turning an intimate experience into something more like a video game. Online dating can be overwhelming, even daunting. You have no idea what the person you are e-mailing looks like or what they are like personally. Since internet dating starts online, some people share photographs from several years ago, while others do not have such exciting pictures; photos do not always represent reality. I think it's fair to assume, though, online dating has its pros: it's easy, universal, and discreet, but it also has its drawbacks, such as dishonest people or cybercrime. Is one outweighing the other? I think it depends on what you are searching for and what you are looking for. More so, what has been your past dating history? Things move at a different pace in digital reality. Knowing someone online for two weeks may feel like a lifetime, and you may feel ready for a romantic relationship too soon. While the ability to choose how much your future partner goes out, what kind of food they eat, and what type of work they do can sound appealing, you should be more concerned with forming a real relationship. As the industry continues to expand, some experts question whether dating app companies are genuinely interested in making love connections. Or do they want to keep people in an endless, endless loop of searching and matching?

ReferencesEdit

  1. a b c Anderson, Monica, Emily A. Vogels and Erica Turner. "The Virtues and Downsides of Online Dating." Pew Research Center, Feb. 6, 2020.
  2. Turkle, Sherry. "Connected, but alone?" Ted.com Feb. 2012.
  3. Lim, Violet. “What Dating Apps and Algorithms Don't Tell You!” TEDxNTU August 2018.
  4. Federal Bureau of Investigation. 2019 Internet Crime Report.
  5. Davidson, Paul. "Romance scams cost Americans $143 million." USA Today, Feb. 14, 2019, p. 03B.
  6. Rivera, Josh. "You may be matching with a bot." USA Today. July 14 2020, p. 03B.
  7. a b Grabmeier, Jeff. What compulsive dating-app users have in common. Ohio State News July 31, 2019.
  8. a b Bridges, John C. The Illusion of Intimacy: Problems in the World of Online Dating. Santa Barbara, Calif: Praeger, 2012. Print.
  9. Williams, Annabelle. "College students are still finding romance in a pandemic, through Zoom crushes and actual dates." Washington Post, Oct. 13, 2020.

GlossaryEdit

Algorithm: A process or set of rules to be followed in calculations or other problem-solving operations, especially by a computer.

  • The algorithms that match various users have become much quicker and more convenient than ever before to find a possible date.

Gratification: Pleasure, especially when gained from the satisfaction of a desire.

  • Do you wonder we expect immediate and instant gratification that comes with online dating? It's because we have websites that date for us.

Interpersonal: Relating to relationships or communication between people.

  • Online dating has altered the way interpersonal relationships are formed.

Pandemic: (Of a disease) prevalent over a whole country or the world.

  • COVID-19 Pandemic has  many singles on mobile dating apps as a way to explore their choices while social distancing.

Reliance: Dependence on or trust in someone or something.

  • Singles are spending more time keeping up with all these applications, earnestly searching for love and unsure where else to look for it. However, users must be made aware of the potential reliance on dating apps.

Representations: The description or portrayal of someone or something in a particular way or as being of a certain nature.

  • The way singles represent themselves in person does not always correlate with how others interpret there Dating profiles.

Simulates : Produce a computer model of.

Ubiquitous: Present, appearing, or found everywhere.

  • The most accessible way to meet individuals is through dating apps. However, as dating apps become more ubiquitous, Singles must decide they are getting genuine matches.  

Further ReadingEdit

On the effectiveness of online dating

On romance scamsEdit

On the effect of online dating during a pandemicEdit

Discussion QuestionsEdit

  • Is algorithmic matchmaking useful or is it a smokescreen to make users feel that their matches are based on fact and logic? Considering that the algorithms of many social media seem to include variable-ratio schedules of reinforcement to addict us to use their services, how do we know that dating algorithms work to fulfill the best interest of customers?
  • How does swiping through hundreds of eligible profiles affect our experience of romance? Is this shopping approach to love exciting or chilling?
  • Is it ethical or even desirable to hire a dating assistant to manage one's online dating experience?
  • Are the intentions of dating online pure? It can be an exciting and enjoyable way to meet potential partners by exploring the world of Internet dating. You may quickly discover, however, profiles are not as they seem. When dating online, singles have to be aware of potential red flags and scammers.
  • When it comes to modern-day romance, the 21st century is now hitting its height. The handwritten love letters will no longer exist, and going out into the real world to look for love is gone. With the current coronavirus pandemic, how will it impact online dating?