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Tech of the decade: dating in the age of modern love

Tech and Innovation

Posted on December 24, 2019

2 min read

“So, how did you two meet?” It’s a question that has many answers for couples in the 2010s. Connectivity, advanced smartphones and a deluge of images and videos turned the dating world on its head.

This piece is part one of a three-part series on how technology shaped the last decade of our lives. You can read more about the tech of the decade here.

For centuries, people have explored romantic relationships after meeting through friends, family and even workplaces, but the classic meet-cute has changed, and brought with it a new kind of social stigma.

Throughout the 2010s, dating apps replaced typical bulletin board-style dating services and personals ads as the swiping effect took over.

Apps in their infancy redefined “hook-up” culture. And meeting someone via an app brought with it a notion that the relationship wasn’t made to last, because of where it was forged.

But, these apps have now evolved. They’ve become a more convenient and personal way to meet a long-term partner – someone you could see yourself with over the years rather than just for a few weeks of fun.

They’ve been made more inclusive for all genders, and user experiences have been made safer thanks to different options for making contact and sexual health reporting in some apps.

The decade of the smartphone brought with it a seismic shift in the way people met each other – and as the apps evolved, their gravitational pull on singles increased to a critical mass. A study from Stanford University in 2009 found that people were primarily still being introduced to partners through mutual friends. Dating “apps” at the turn of the last decade barely existed, and the ones that did were early smartphone-based copies of basic bulletin board-style dating services rather than the location-based “swipe” apps of today.

The same study conducted in 2019 found that “heterosexual couples are more likely to meet a romantic partner online than through personal contacts and connections”. Researchers in the study believed that friends would never be supplanted in the dating process – but as the smartphone continues to improve, so does the online dating community.

Your phone can offer more potential partners at scale than your mum has friends with nice sons or daughters, and the people your friends introduce you to may not guarantee the same diverse experience offered by a dating app.

Dating suddenly became an experience that was happening on the move. Images, videos and social media have saturated the online dating experience as static personals profiles started to rapidly decline in favour of swipeable experiences. The addition of location-based dating turned the static experience on desktop and laptop computers into a dynamic one where suddenly you could see all the fish in the sea that surrounded your smartphone.

Stanford’s study found that this radical move from the stationary desktop to a world of romance you could fit in your pocket was one of the most disruptive events of the decade when it came to how people find love.

In 2020 when couples of all genders are asked how they met, the answer will probably be on a dating app. But just because couples are meeting through their phones doesn’t mean that they have a lower chance of success. Stanford found that “ultimately, it doesn’t matter how you met your significant other, the relationship takes on a life of its own after the initial meeting”.

The story isn’t happy for everyone. Those who are lonely or isolated report that smartphone-based dating may lead to feelings of further isolation and social challenge. Associate Professor Gery Karantzas from Deakin University explains that “some feel overwhelmed or disillusioned by online dating because of all the options that are available”.

The rise of the smartphone in the 2010s did more than just disrupt how people met. It also changes how relationships function at their core.

Couples keep in touch through different apps designed to personalise a text-based messaging experience, but Professor Karantzas from Deakin says that this can potentially lead to a feeling of detachment from your partner.

“Although we can begin to engage with [each other] through messages, it can often be difficult to gauge, and we tend to premeditate and read into texts much more than we should…There’s only so much emojis can convey. Meeting face-to-face removes a degree of this complexity,” he said

There are more messaging apps out there than we can reasonably count these days, but beyond the simple digitisation of communications, technology is reshaping how we interact with our partners once we’re in a relationship.

Ask any marriage counsellor what the cornerstone of a strong relationship is and nine out of 10 will tell you that it’s trust. In a world of passwords, encryptions, locks and keys, trust with your partner is now something that is colliding headfirst with personal security. A study from Kaspersky Lab, a whopping 70 per cent of couples share passwords. That’s a number likely to give information security professionals a heart attack, but it’s true.

Kaspersky Lab found that 26 per cent of people store “intimate data” on their partner’s device, and 11 per cent of people even share financial access data with their significant other. As couples converge to create content together on their smartphones such as photos, videos, social media accounts and emails, it’s almost second nature to be asked for the password to an account so that this material can be shared. Kaspersky points out, however, that nothing lasts forever and breakups can be made even messier when your ex has the keys to your digital life:

“Disgruntled ex-partners may be tempted to take advantage of the digital access their former significant other once shared. Kaspersky Lab found that 12 percent of people who have experienced a breakup have shared or wanted to share an ex-partner’s private information publicly as an act of revenge, and the same proportion (12%) have damaged or wanted to damage an ex’s device. Additionally, one-in-ten people surveyed (10%) confessed to having spent an ex-partner’s money online.

“Even if the relationship does not end on bad terms, sharing device or account passwords with a partner can still create privacy issues in the case of a breakup. One-in-five people (21%) admitted to having spied on an ex-partner through an online account to which they had access, such as social media or email,” Kaspersky Lab reported in 2018.

As we continue to move in and out of other’s lives, laws have had to catch up with our more vengeful nature when it comes to breakups in particular.

Some are bucking the tech trend, however. Pervasive technology can have a tendency to dehumanise our connections to each other. To fight back, some couples are removing technology from their relationships more and more. Similar to the way some entertainers are locking up people’s phones at live events, couples are implementing screen time limits on each other to bring the focus back to the personal nature of a relationship. No phones at the table; no browsing while watching a movie; no screen time for or around the kids, and other rules are on the rise.

While technology remains a great enabler for communication in relationships, a Pew Research study found that 27% of married or partnered respondents reported that the internet had some sort of negative impact on their relationship. Furthermore, 25% of partnered or married smartphone users report that they’ve felt their partner was distracted by a smartphone while they were spending time together.

But despite the “techlash”, love is becoming increasingly modern as young people begin their flirtations with tech and each other. The same Pew Research study showed that 45% of internet users between the ages of 18 and 29 say the internet had an impact on their relationship, compared to one in 10 adults over the age of 65.

So what will technology do to how we date in the next 10 years? It’s anyone’s guess, but we’re already seeing how emerging technology like Artificial Intelligence is having an impact on relationships, even after they’ve ended.

When a significant other passes away, odds are you’ll be left with not only their physical stuff but also their digital footprint as well. Messages, photos, videos, audio recordings, and writings: all of them representative of a person no longer with you.

There are many stories already out there of how the tech-savvy can “resurrect” a digital version of their partner via an AI chatbot. By feeding the raw data – such as chat logs and pictures – to an artificial intelligence, it can replicate the way the deceased talks and interacts to create new content going forward. What it becomes is a digital avatar of a former partner based on everything they shared with you in the first place.

By the time we reflect on this piece in 10 years, we’ll be through the looking glass of things like 5G and connectivity everywhere. Couples will be able to instantly speak to each other from anywhere on the planet with little to no latency slowing them down or tripping them up. Dead or alive, your partner will be in your pocket 24/7, and if you’re single, a sea of potential matches will continue to await you as we continue our obsession with digital dating.

The future is bright, together.