The Pros and Cons of the New Way to Date

Today’s post is on a subject near and dear to my heart, and one that I happen to have a bit of experience with – online dating. A new paper recently published in some journal called, “Psychological Science in the Public Interest,” takes a look at the phenomenon from a psychological perspective before making some conclusions based on observations. Specifically, author Eli Finkel from Northwestern University is trying to answer two questions: (1) Has online dating really revolutionized the way us Homo sapiens find mates and (2) does it do the job better than just going out and meeting people like the good old days?

The answers, according to Finkel (laces in!) are yes, and yes and no.

Online dating has certainly revolutionized the relationship world. Never before have people had so much immediate, easy access, communication and matching power. Twenty years ago, when a nerd filming a home movie version of A New Hope wanted to meet someone, he actually had to see the light of day on his way to the Star Wars convention. But now, he can peruse other nerds – like at Geek 2 Geek – from the comfort of his parents’ basement.

The second revolution comes in the way of communication. Instead of nervous, bumbling adolescent-like men fumbling for words outside of the supermarket, they can instantly message potential girlfriends at the click of a button after taking hours agonizing over the wrong thing to say. And to get even simpler, never before have people learned so much about each other before actually meeting face-to-face. It turns the typical paradigm on its head. Instead of a few minutes of interaction to feel chemistry before asking someone out and getting to know someone, you get to know someone and then go see if there’s a spark.

Finally, there’s the matching game. No longer do you have to rely on your sister-in-law to set you up with her college roommate who owns five “kitties”, is hopelessly devoted to Edward Cullen and can’t figure out why she can’t find a date. Instead, as OKCupid claims, “We use math to get you dates.”

So obviously the online dating scene is revolutionary. It’s very different from the way things used to be, and they way that they still are sans internet.

But is it any better?

Yes and no. Yes, in that participants gain instant and easy access to a large number of potential mates, can easily pick and choose those most suitable for themselves before ignoring them, and if they don’t want to work too hard, the site will even provide matches for them.

But then there’s the no. Sure, you can chat with people online, but nobody knows if there’s any chemistry without meeting in person. And because there are so many options, users might dismiss someone that they would actually hit it off with. How many people do you know who actually know what they want in a partner? Then, on the other end of the spectrum, messaging back and forth without meeting for long periods of time can lead to the over-interpreting of social cues, leading one or both parties to get the wrong ideas. Finally, none of the matching algorithms have been proven to be even the slightest bit accurate.

So what is one to do?

So long as you know the benefits and shortcomings, the author suggests online dating is a great tool, as evidenced by the fact that it is now widely accepted as a legitimate avenue in society. However, he has some suggestions for the future of the industry.

First, video chatting could greatly enhance the communication experience before meeting someone and give greater insight into whether or not they’re worth meeting in person. Also, Finkel suggests some sort of “group knowledge” system like Netflix, where individuals are rated by their dates afterwards in order to sort out the ones with pictures from 10 years ago or blatant lies about themselves, or to sort out the assholes and douche bags.

Sure, Finkel, I’m sure that nobody would ever give a bad review out of spite for not being called the next day or there wouldn’t be bribes flying across the table in exchange for high marks. Everyone can always look at their love life objectively…


About bigkingken

A science writer dedicated to proving that the Big Ten - or the Committee on Institutional Cooperation, if you will - is more than athletics.
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