As I was perusing the online edition of The Irish Times recently, I noticed that among the numerous other features provided, such as the regular print edition, cheap travel deals, and ancestry finding, there is a dating service. Now I apologise profusely for my lack of speed on the uptake, but I wasn’t aware that even national newspapers now offered cyberspace locations to find love.
Along with the proliferation of networking sites, the rapid growth of online dating agencies has been one of the most interesting phenomenons of the past five years. The internet has irrevocably changed the way society disseminates and interprets information. Everything is instantly attainable and instantly digestible. We want our information packaged colourfully with as many pop-ups as possible. Videos, music, media clips and headlines all dominate the processing of information online. This rapidity of change that the internet has brought us has unquestionably had tremor effects on culture. We crave instant gratification, and although this can partly be explained by natural human curiosity and impatience, it still does not allow for the massive reduction in our individual and collective attention spans.
What has the above got to do with online dating, I hear you ask? Everything, is the apt reply. Many recent trends, such as the gargantuan consumption of pornography, the seemingly unstoppable rise of networking and dating sites and the worrying decrease in sports participation, are all intrinsically linked. The connection is this idea of instant gratification, whether it is our eating, sexual or social habits. People would prefer to simultaneously update their Facebook profile while catching up on re-runs of Gossip Girl than spend two hot, sweaty hours playing football. When exercise does come into the complicated equation of modern life, it is often undertaken in a gym, where it can be neatly compartmentalised like the other components of one’s life. Ten minutes bench press, five minutes on deltoids, twenty minutes on the rowing machine, followed by “cardio.” As a self-confessed athletic junkie, this ideal of body-sculpting as opposed to good old-fashioned sport makes bile rise in my throat. But I digress.
This idea of wanting everything now, from elevated social status to toned abs, also applies to the dating world. The causation of the rocketing popularity of online dating could probably fill some sociology tome (outlining the other important social issues such as low self-esteem and internet dependence) but I’m more interested in the instantaneous aspect of it all.
Online daters admit that boredom with the “normal” dating scene and lack of self-confidence are reasons for turning to the online world. As my recent stumble upon The Irish Times dating agency demonstrates, online dating has permeated all aspects of social life. It long ago ceased to be looked down upon as method of finding a partner. If you want to, you can now find a date within five minutes of starting your computer. If your attention span wanes, as it so often does with other aspects of modern culture, you can exchange your current partner/date/whatever for a newer model. Thus, one’s gratification can be always satisfied and rectified to suit the moment.
This instantaneous availability appears to espouse a mating culture as much as a dating one. To be fair, we have all heard of romances that have blossomed from innocuous beginnings to full-blown, consummated and even marital relationships. However, such relationships seem to be a rarity rather than the norm. Online dating agencies profess to offer a safe, comfortable environment in which true love can easily form. Contrary to such ideals, a majority of dating sites are flooded by an impatient generation seeking an instant fix. They are entertained by the allure of a quick and painless introduction, where sex is a natural extension. If hopes are swiftly dashed by the harsh reality of the online world, the prospective dater can simply move on to a fresh hunting ground.
The world of cyber-dating supposedly offers many opportunities, but it actually harms our already depreciating social skills. Our loss of the simple ability to socialise in the real world, because of an insatiable need to satisfy ourselves minute-by-minute, represents a blow to social and cultural development. The internet is a wonderful resource, but it should be used to complement our daily lives, not replace them. I firmly believe that the net does not provide ideal conditions for romantic relationships to develop. Everyone should be able to ask a member of the opposite sex on a date over a cup of coffee, not a keyboard. Online dating sites merely promote and perpetuate the disposable nature of society today. The Irish Times should stick to its primary strength – quality journalism – and exorcise the demons of online dating. Although hugely tempting through its instant accessibility and claims of instant gratification, we should attempt to immunise ourselves from the perils of potential cyberspace romance and continue to live in the real world. It is, in my opinion, far more enriching and indescribably more exciting than the glossified falseness of the net.