Single Servings


Rob Horning in New Inquiry:

Dating companies hope to replace our search for love with a search for better searching

You don’t have to look very hard for the determinism in Dan Slater’s Love in the Time of Algorithms. It’s right in the subtitle: “What Technology Does to Meeting and Mating.” This follows in the tech-pundit tradition of book titles like Clay Shirky’s Cognitive Surplus: How Technology Makes Consumers Into Collaborators and Kevin Kelly’s WhatTechnology Wants, titles which grant anthropomorphic agency to technology, taking us all off the hook for what it has “made” happen. Readers of these books are absolved of having to do anything in particular to address the way technology is developing; they let us kick back and fantasize about how much our lives are going to change while we make no effort to change much of anything. They let us have our status quo and eat it too.

That’s not to say determinism in general is wrong, as a liberal-humanist zealot might have it. But it does run against our casual faith in consumer sovereignty, the belief that our market choices have the power to confer uniqueness upon us. It can seem counterintuitive, almost controversial, to point out in a book meant for the mainstream that technology constrains our autonomy and shapes our possible actions. Still, you don’t have to be Lévi-Strauss to recognize that “meeting and mating” have always been socially organized and that what we find desirable is conditioned by culture. Slater, a former Wall Street Journal reporter and current FastCompany contributor, repackages those banal truisms as vaguely alarming yet exciting developments. “New means of connection are threatening the old paradigm of adult life,” he writes, and much of the book is given over to the titillating possibilities for the new adulthood. Love in the Time of Algorithms invites us to daydream about escaping the prisonhouse of the couple form and the disorienting yet irresistible sexual abundance that online dating has supposedly wrought.