Can technology improve your chances of hitting it off with a date?
It may be inevitable that camera mounted drones soar above us while our web searches, messages, and geo-tracked movements are ensnared in some evil server farm co-owned by the U.S. government, Google, and Coca Cola, but as long as we can identify these as negatives, they can be tolerated. Yet, the more fearsome aspect of this future would not be its imposition against our will but that it would come as a result of invitation, an unintended consequence of our seeking to meet some need we worried would be unable to address on our own.
Dating is one act where it's difficult to escape the needful suspicion that you could be doing something better, that your instincts are not quite good enough for the task of falling in love. Earlier this month Lauren McCarthy announced a prototype for a phone app she's devised to help uncertain daters navigate the awkward encounters of first dates, mostly arranged through online services.
The app is called Social Turkers and basically turns one's phone into a live streaming device for a group of freelance romantic consultants to provide feedback to the nervous dater in the form of text messages.
The app is called Social Turkers and basically turns one's phone into a live streaming device for a group of freelance romantic consultants to provide feedback to the nervous dater in the form of text messages. In McCarthy's prototype, a number of anonymous workers from Amazon's Mechanical Turk service are paid $0.25 to listen in and comment. An average date during McCarthy's testing drew on approximately 60 different workers, who provided general feedback like helping to interpret her date's general interest to suggesting lines like "You remind me of my father. Wanna make out?" or "Why did you move to Portland?"
The app may seem like bizarre excess, a technological solution that introduces far more complexity and unreliability than it resolves, but the pathos of its creator should not be alien to most people. The idea of a date depends on romantic love being viewed as a scarce commodity. If a date goes poorly, the earnest romancer will feel at a loss, having invested their best effort into an event that produced neither intimacy nor sex. The precious evening is considered a waste, and the cause of its loss is internalized as a personal failure.
To address all our romantic and social inadequacies, we'd turned to best friends and trusted ambassadors from the desired sex to help evaluate events in retrospect, troubleshooting bad practices and planning long-term strategies that might lead to more frequent access to the beloved scarce commodity. This creates a basic and inescapable loop that says if we were more skillful the thing we desire most would be everywhere. The ironic response to this pressure is to further withdraw, exacerbating the romantic or intimate scarcity for everyone else.
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Turning to technology to resolve a problem that is almost entirely attitudinal is self-defeating. "One [date] told me he felt very uneasy because he was never sure when I said something if I had chosen to say it or I was being directed at the moment," McCarthy told FastCompany. She describes others as feeling relief when seeing the app and wanting to use it to alleviate their own anxieties about blowing things with her.
This relief sprung from having a distant evaluator is welcome, but it also reaffirms everyone's worst fears about dating. It helps people handle the stress of being judged, but it does little to address the fact that we are always expecting judgements to take place. Evaluating another person is an important part of romantic experience, but because dating comes with a heightened sense of stakes it encourages defensive evaluation, a problem that's exacerbated by technological intermediaries, which excel at filtering for generic negatives.
Evaluating another person is an important part of romantic experience, but because dating comes with a heightened sense of stakes it encourages defensive evaluation, a problem that's exacerbated by technological intermediaries...
During encounters where there is no superstitious scarce commodity, social exchange is driven by the desire to have a good time. When there is nothing at risk, one thinks constructively, and sharing constructive efforts to have fun creates a bond sprung from process. Dating encounters distort this with the implicit knowledge that you are being judged for your efforts at sharing and having a good time. People engage defensively, subconsciously scanning for the warning signs or deal breakers.
Many cultures have deferred the constrictive weight of this process to matchmakers, and even now sites like OKCupid offload the stressors to algorithms, all in the hopes that the daters might feel less inhibited by the formal expectations placed on them as both performer and judge. Before the mechanical turk can tell you you're doing it wrong, you first have to let it watch, and after a certain point, maintaining the fear of being wrong becomes an essential part in justifying the on-going access to record everything in your life. Which makes finding a long-term relationship seem like an oasis from surveillance and judgement, something that becomes more unattainable the more idealized we make it.
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