According to a recent article from CNet.com,1 Eharmony envisions unveiling a new feature in the near future: an algorithm that analyzes users’ profiles and recommends a communal topic of conversation if the users stop talking to each other. Of course, users will still have the final option of choosing to talk or not, but this potential chatbot is their attempt to ameliorate the “ghosting” issue so many online daters seem to face. In a similar realm, popular online dating services Bumble, Coffee meets Bagel, and Okcupid have started (or have been) allowing users to share specific interests in response to prompts provided by the service, acting as a built-in impetus for comfortable conversation. In their current iteration, these are understandably useful tools; it can be daunting to strike up a conversation with a stranger and providing common ground eases this barrier.
A broader picture of technological advancements, however, paints a more provoking picture. In May 2018 2 Google unveiled how far technology has come by having their AI assistant make phone calls on behalf of the owner, calls which sounded surprisingly human. Taken with the aforementioned tools – algorithms that analyze profiles or prompts for information that users freely give – one can’t help but put these technologies together to see a possible future in which users do not necessarily speak with each other, but instead provide information and rely on these tools to go beyond just suggesting matches and actually talk to each other on behalf of their users, maybe even set up dates for the users.
It is already known that, for some, online dating can be a stressful affair; the sea of potential options can overwhelm and lead to feelings of dehumanization, poor choices, cognitive burnout, and more3, 4. In the face of these potential negative outcomes, automated processes for easing and expediting the online dating process could be a welcome solution for those willing to pay the price of privacy and personal information. Out of frustration with their current results, or possibly for the convenience of not having to search and scrutinize potential partners themselves, people are willing to share all manner of personal information for a solution. In this possible future, online dating evolves from a tool to find a partner to the unquestionable provision of a perfect partner, based on an algorithm. And in this possible future, the question ought to be asked if this relinquishing of personal information, independent thought, and choice for the perfect partner is dystopian, or utopian.
A blessing or a curse for those invested in this future: Dr. Eli Finkel, renowned relationships researcher, maintains that online dating’s only real advantage is the sheer size of the online dating pool; the algorithms don’t have the kind of predictive power to match romantic couples any better than chance5, 6. Not yet anyway.
3 D’Angelo, J. D., & Toma, C. L. (2017). There are plenty of fish in the sea: The effects of choice overload and reversibility on online daters’ satisfaction with selected partners. Media Psychology, 20(1), 1-27.
4 Heino, R. D., Ellison, N. B., & Gibbs, J. L. (2010). Relationshopping: Investigating the market metaphor in online dating. Journal of Social and Personal relationships, 27(4), 427-447.
5 Finkel, E. J., Eastwick, P. W., Karney, B. R., Reis, H. T., & Sprecher, S. (2012). Online dating: A critical analysis from the perspective of psychological science. Psychological Science in the Public Interest, 13(1), 3-66.
Dr. Richard A. Dowlat
Richard’s research focuses on online dating and its interactions with interpersonal attraction, examining what effects online dating has on individual psychological processes, mate criteria, relationship processes, and outcomes.