[OPINION] Digital dating under lockdown: Can tech really fix dating?
The COVID-19 pandemic has certainly upended our lives in more ways than one. On top of the economic woes that came with it are the canceled social engagements. Those dates we are looking forward to now have a bleak chance of happening. And so now we turn to social media as our quick fix to our dating problems. Is it possible to find love online? How are singles supposed to navigate through this new era of dating? Can social media fix dating? (READ: Love during lockdown: Singles in U.S. reinvent dating)
To answer these questions, let us start with some basics of our internet use and behavior from Social Psychology. With the great lockdown, we now mostly rely on the internet for much needed interaction. Before this lockdown, we had all gotten so used to social media that a huge chunk of our waking moments was spent on it.
According to WeAreSocial, in 2019 about 73 million Filipinos spend an average of 9 hours and 45 minutes online. The same number use the internet for social media, spending 3 hours and 53 minutes per day – that’s how much we want to stay connected. This was a time when we communicated on social media to supplement our actual social interactions.
There are two main socialization functions of social media that Filipinos overwhelmingly use: bridging or making new connections, and bonding or maintaining already established connections. Additionally we are attracted based on proximity, attractiveness, similarity, and reciprocity. We are attracted to those with whom we are close or have some anticipation of meeting. We like good-looking people. We like people with whom we share attitudes, beliefs, and values – this is where that getting to know you phase comes in. And we like people who, of course, like us back.
In comes the pandemic and the rules are quite different. With quarantines in place, we have been forced to rely mostly on social media for interaction. We have no other way to show how physically attractive we are aside from pictures and videos. We have no way to demonstrate our values other than displaying images and texts. We have limited chances of reciprocating emotions assuming that we have people to converse with on our messaging apps. Before the pandemic, we had the chance to anticipate eventually meeting with people we encounter virtually, and that anticipation gave us hope and something to get excited about. Now, the possibility is remote, and so our hope is replaced with uncertainty.
Digital dating and love under lockdown
Has digital technology changed the dating landscape? Does it produce better outcomes? On the first question obviously, yes. For the second question, it's a yes and no. Of course it has dramatically altered the dating landscape, with tremendous access to about 3-4 billion internet users globally, to information, and to possible matching. You'd be struggling with "choice paralysis." Does it produce better outcomes though? Not necessarily. It is a good place to start, but a relationship is not maintained online. It is lived. (READ: [PODCAST] Laffler Talk: True love in dating apps?)
While one person may have many choices and information available to her, so too do many others. The situation expands our choices but not necessarily our chances. Do we go for the first best choice or should we hold back until the "right one" comes along? Do we settle or do we reach for someone better? All while wasting our time scrolling along – failing to decide or not wanting to commit. We don’t go all in with our choice and want to hold out just a little for that chance that someone better comes along.
While information is largely available to us, our cognitive capacities simply can not handle such a deluge of information. What we have is mediated by devices absent any social context or cues. Too much information leading to much indecision. Our long evolutionary history as humans did not prepare us for screens. The basics of attraction are now unrecognizable.
We may inevitably be engaging in consumer behavior in online dating. Looking through our choices, enjoying the chase, but getting disappointed with the actual choice in the end – buyers' remorse. In this marketplace we ourselves are the commodities and buyers. On social media where we are seen on a limited plane, we try to construct the best image that we can to gain fleeting attention. There is no guarantee that you can fix someone’s attention on you and your attention on them. This is a ruthless market; not everyone wins. Not everyone is as attractive, close, similar, or can reciprocate. We end up thinking we are not good enough and start to negatively compare ourselves with others.
So has social media fixed dating? Perhaps it has introduced novel problems for singles to wade through especially during this lockdown. So to the singles, hang in there, and see you on the other side. – Rappler.com
Rainier Astin R. Sindayen is taking his MA in Education (Educational Psychology) at the College of Education, University of the Philippines-Diliman.