This week Der Spiegel’s cover story is about online dating and the business that it has become. Unfortunately, the authors of the thirteen pages long story seem as confused about the phenomenon as Bridget Jones at the edge of reason. Alas, their writing is far less charming, even despite the fact that, statistically, almost half of the people who participated in writing the article are living in single households (according to their own data, 49% percent of households in cities with more than 500,000 inhabitants are now single households).
If you’re interested in a brief summary of what the article tried to elucidate, here’s an excerpt from an email I once sent to Regina Lynn, Wired’s “Sex Drive” columnist (and author of the on-topic book “The Sexual Revolution 2.0: Getting Connected, Upgrading Your Sex Life, and Finding True Love – or at Least a Dinner Date – in the Internet Age“), as a reply to one of her columns about the social consequences of the fact that, increasingly, what was once considered “virtual” is becoming the real thing. It’s not exactly the question dealt with by Der Spiegel, but then again, I’m not sure they had a particularly clear idea of the question they were trying to answer, so this is, I believe, a reasonable summary…
“I believe no one really knows what’s happening to the future of interpersonal relations. Our lives and contacts are more and more mediated by technology, and, as with many businesses today, the changing technology fundamentally changes the transaction costs for the coordination of human conduct.
This is, in my opinion, essentially, what all the writing about the choice dilemma and all other “modern” dating literature comes down to. As with businesses, transaction costs will not disappear in the digitally mediated world. No one even really knows if “unit costs” will eventually be signifcantly lower.
And thus, in absence of any real evidence, the “majority opinion” about the social effects of technology oscillates between “hope” (eg online dating will help reduce unit search costs for dating) and “despair” (eg online dating increases our choice dilemma and thus increases unit search costs).
In my opinion, most researchers are at least as confused as the societies they study. Maybe we will choose to develop some kind of Matrix. But remember the end of “Demolition Man”, in which Silvester Stallone introduces Sandra Bullock to the advantages physical contact has over cyber sex. No one knows what the future will bring. Which, on the other hand, ensures a market for all those, like you, who eruditely write about these issues so close to our hearts.