Talking About Dating Apps, Catfish and more, by Rowena J Ronson and Nigel Summerley

RJR: I wonder what impact dating apps, such as Tinder and Happn, are having on the human psyche and the way we are now ‘connecting’ with each other. What are people really looking for when they enlist their most appealing selfie (or someone else’s) as their ambassador in this new overriding virtual reality that has swiftly become our modern-day concept of existence?

NS: With everyone on their smartphone or tablet almost all of their waking day, perhaps the concept of intimacy is now inextricably linked to technology, rather than the unpredictable but sometimes rather interesting twists and turns of real reality. Do we prefer to wear masks, rather than reveal ourselves?

RJR: Imagine the scenario…. you are in a bar in London…. a great opportunity to chat and connect with people. Instead you stare at the top of everyone’s heads as they look down and talk to each other through technology…. if indeed they actually like each other’s freeze frame at the time! It is a really great way to hide and avoid intimacy, but allows us to be fed just enough to have our egos boosted for a few minutes, if we are lucky….

NS: However and wherever we meet people, there is this whole problem of the image that we present of ourselves and the image that we create about others. It seems that the virtual world encourages us to make and perceive yet another layer of images, and in the midst of all these images, what chance is there of a real relationship between two actual people?

RJR: I totally agree with you. And your question brought up for me one of the reasons I wanted to talk about this. I am not sure people are really looking for real relationships right now. I think many are fed enough by the attention they can glean through dating apps and other ways of superficially connecting through social media. Why have a real relationship with someone, and have to be a real person ourselves, when we can live in a dream reality of ourselves and others?

NS: Isn’t a dream or fantasy relationship one-sided? That makes it safe, I suppose. But it can’t be a relationship unless it’s two-sided, can it? Maybe the fantasy is easier but is it ultimately satisfying? I think it’s the case that many people are disillusioned with relationships and may not want to ‘go there’ anymore. And maybe the fact that you can have a virtual life rather than a real one strengthens this aversion to real relationships – and thus real life. Because life without relationships, however appealing that may be sometimes, is not a complete life, is it?

RJR: I have been researching the modern day phenomena of Catfish through watching the reality-based documentary television series of the same name, and this has been a huge eye-opener for me. People connect with each other on the internet and then develop what feels like deep relationships through texting, and sometimes the person they think they are communicating with is someone completely different. There is so much to think about and say with regards to this, but the first issue that springs to mind, as I said earlier, is how we are fed, so to speak. For some, texting is enough.

NS: Wasn’t there a craze for virtual girlfriends (in Japan, I think) a while ago? I’m not sure how that panned out. But we seem to be getting to a place now where people may be very happy with what is, in effect, a one-sided relationship. Is that safe? Or is it dangerous?

RJR: I don’t know about that craze. Can you tell me more? What do you mean by a one-sided relationship? Then I might be able to answer your question….

NS: It started about three years ago. See this link Meet the Japanese Men in Love With Virtual Girlfriends. The Japanese men in question were having relationships with girlfriends who they knew didn’t exist. But they seemed to find this ok. That is what I mean by one-sided. It’s like having a relationship with your teddy bear – or an imaginary friend. And maybe something like that is happening online?

RJR: Sounds great to me! I was actually quite taken by the film Her (2013), and the idea of forming a relationship with an operating system, which develops into a unique loving entity as a result of its interactions with its user. Maybe that will be the way forward?

NS: Maybe it will. But that’s definitely one-human-sided. Or a relationship with yourself? And what happens to the stimulus of unpredictability? Or are we better off without it? And what about sex? That surely is more interesting with two humans rather than one, isn’t it?

RJR: I think that would be the only one-sided relationship I would want. And I don’t think it would lack stimulation or unpredictability – according to the film – a must watch. We are born with a social brain, which is programmed to develop through our interaction with others. It is a human need to be in relationship with others.

NS: I think that last point must be right. But technology does seem to have made the ‘one-sided’ relationship much more possible – and maybe even very appealing to some people. And if people give up on trying to form loving relationships with real people, where does that leave us heading?

RJR: I think we are not just heading somewhere, but we are actually already there. We are in relationship with technology, whether we like it or not. For some, reaching out through Facebook live chats is a very nourishing way to check in with themselves, as well as connect with others. Perhaps we need to turn our own thoughts and feelings around on this one, and see the positive side?

NS: I agree that we are there already. But I don’t agree that Facebook is a satisfactory source of nourishment. It’s another example of a kind of one-sided relationship: people primarily talking about themselves and wanting someone to ‘like’ them or what they are doing or agree with what they are saying. I have actually tried to live without it and have found myself going back. It’s addictive and in some ways useful… but does it really offer anything that creates or sustains satisfying relationships?

RJR: I was not encouraging an addiction to Facebook. But recently, in my time off from relationships, I have been watching a philosophical thinker, Jason Silva. He is the creator of Shots of Awe, which are really worth checking out, and what he says has really inspired me. When he is on Facebook live, often more than a thousand people interact with him. And I know it brings him, and those responding to him, joy. Perhaps it is the shared wavelength and the feeling of being met, or perhaps the fact that we are all connected anyway. In recent weeks since I have discovered him, I have been in much better relationship with myself, and there is a lot to be said for that.

NS: Maybe lonely hearts aren’t so lonely when they all link up, or feel that they are linking up, via technology. Even though we are ‘there’, I still think we’re heading somewhere too. And I fear that that somewhere will be life as, in effect, a computer simulation. A simulacrum of life… rather than real human life. And perhaps we should remember that all of this technology, and many who exploit it, do so to make money… not to unite humanity. I still think nothing can substitute for a loving relationship that has no connection with technology.

RJR: Nothing beats a cuddle 🙂 What do our readers think?

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