Swiped away: In the era of commercial dating apps, is the easy availability of sex dehumanising the experience?

Joana Ramiro in New Humanist:

Ramiro"I am tired of the constant swiping,” a friend tells me. But I’ve heard it before and I know that in a few weeks’ time he will be back on Tinder or Bumble or some other app looking for someone to have sex with – and maybe even for a semblance of emotional intimacy. This is unquestionably a millennial’s malaise. And the more our so-called romantic lives are mediated by online dating apps, the more ethical questions arise over the effect they are having on our social behaviour. Is making sex so available – and the people with whom to do it so easily replaceable – dehumanising the experience? Is my friend tired of swiping because of decision fatigue or does it suggest that there’s a gulf between the kind of relationships offered by online dating and what we find truly satisfying?

“Tinder is a symptom of a very specific type of capitalist cyberspace,” says the technology writer Roisin Kibern. “Where instead of us having the room to prove ourselves as human, we are all just cogs within machines and we are given rankings.” Kibern has used Tinder but now prefers to stay away from it, because dating apps give her “that horrible feeling that you get towards the end of the night in a club and feel like you’re suddenly part of a meat market. Half of you wants to just go headlong into it and be like, ‘Yeah I could go home with anyone tonight’, but the other half of you is, ‘Jesus, this is horrible, I am so alone, I never felt like such an alien wearing a human suit in my life.’” We both laugh at this comment, perhaps because we both know it all too well. Kibern calls the apps a system of “pure convenience”, and it’s not hard to see why people would set aside uneasiness about outsourcing their love lives to technology. In a world of permanent competition, being a mere cog in the machine can come across as a very simple and thus ­appealing option.

The need for physical and emotional contact is universal. But when our interactions are mediated online by services that are also trying to make profit from us, ­dating can become alienating, or even enslaving. Kibern sees this sense of alienation as the epitome of “capitalist realism”: a concept proposed by the late theorist Mark Fisher, which describes the cultural and emotional effects of living within a system to which it seems there is no possible alternative. Marcus Gilroy-Ware also drew on the concept in his recent book Filling the Void: ­Emotion, Capitalism & Social Media (Repeater). As ­Gilroy-Ware says an online interview with New Humanist, “One of the things that really inspired me to write the book was ­Fisher’s idea of ‘depressive hedonia’.

More here.