How Online Dating Impacts Health

By creating a seemingly endless choice of romantic partners for its users, online dating apps have facilitated a "hook-up" culture that's not conducive to settling down and is driving loneliness, anxiety and depression. (Composite: Letty Avila. Image source: iStock.)

Hey  TD!

I read this article by USC Dornsife’s Susan Bell and thought it an interesting topic of discussion.  It’s not an article written from a Christian perspective, but I think brings up some good points to think through, pray about, and discuss.

What do you think of online dating? What do you think of the research results?  Many in our church have used online dating services, while others swear against it.  What guidelines do we find in the Bible that would help us think about this more clearly?  Does this research have broader implications than just for dating?

This would be great to discuss with your small group members and leaders on several levels!

For better or worse: Looking for love in the internet age

Online dating and social media have revolutionized how we look for love. USC Dornsife’s Julie Albright reveals how this digital technology has far-reaching effects on our health and well-being. [4 ¾ min read]

By creating a seemingly endless choice of romantic partners for its users, online dating apps have facilitated a “hook-up” culture that’s not conducive to settling down and is driving loneliness, anxiety and depression. (Composite: Letty Avila. Image source: iStock.)

When online dating began, there was no swiping left or right, no photo-shopped selfies or alluring videos, just lonely singles pouring out their hearts in internet chat rooms.

Initially, there was a certain shame attached to online dating, Julie Albright says. “But people were really opening up and talking about things, maybe for the first time. It was all about getting to know the inner person, and many people felt like they’d met their soul mate.”

The original stigma may have gone as online dating went mainstream with the dawn of the mobile internet era, but Albright, a lecturer in psychology at USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences, says everything else has changed, too, as the app economy commodified people and relationships into something far more superficial.

Online dating is now the second or third most common way — depending on age — for Americans to meet romantic partners. In Albright’s upcoming book, Left to Their Own Devices: How Digital Natives are Reshaping the American Dream (Prometheus Books, 2019), she describes how it has altered the landscape of love and romance in the 21st century and reveals how the ways we now look for love are affecting our relationships, our health and our well-being — even the very fabric of society.

 

The loneliness paradox

Online dating creates the idea that there are thousands of romantic possibilities available to us. However, that brings problems of its own, Albright warns, because when faced with a vast array of choices, paradoxically, we’re unable to choose.

“We keep thinking there are endless choices, that maybe someone better will come along,” she said. “But at the end of the day, people who don’t choose are going to end up lonely because they’re not in a relationship. You have to choose and you have to commit to build something.”

But by facilitating a “hookup” culture, dating apps have created an environment that’s not conducive to settling down.

Dating has become a sport, Albright argues, rather than a means to build a long-term relationship.

“You couldn’t talk to 300 women in a night in a bar, but with a dating app, you can throw out a thousand hooks and get 300 bites.”

Traditions like marriage or buying a home, she says, provide a guiding north star by which people can navigate their lives. Now, young digital natives, hyper-attached to digital technologies and no longer choosing commitment and marriage, are unhooking from traditional social structures and are cast adrift — a process Albright calls “coming untethered.”

“Taking the endgame out of courtship changes the dynamic of what dating is about. If you’re just dating in a constant churn, there’s no future and no hope on the horizon,” she said. “Instead, it becomes all about experience.”

The result, Albright argues, is that people find themselves lonely or anxious without knowing why.

“You would think we’re more connected than ever,” Albright says, “yet paradoxically, as we become increasingly enraptured and mesmerized by our devices, we’re separating from one another.”

A warped sense of self

 

Noting that we develop our sense of self through the reflected appraisal of others, Albright warns that people are drifting far from their true selves in constructing their dating profiles. The end result can undermine self-esteem because others are giving validation for a self that the person knows to be false.

This “virtual mirror” is also causing anxiety and depression, Albright notes, as people feel they can never live up to the images they see, even although they’re comparing themselves to an “other” that doesn’t really exist.

Doubly addictive

Even if we know online dating is making us depressed, it’s not easy to stop, Albright argues. She compares using dating apps to playing one-armed bandits in Las Vegas. “Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose, and that’s why you keep going back for more,” she says, noting the power of random reinforcement as a behavioral driver.

And that’s not all. Dating apps and social media also fuel a narcissistic desire for attention, satisfying primitive psychological needs for attention, affirmation and validation.

“People can get very hooked on that,” Albright says.

Even if we can overcome our addiction to dating apps, abandoning them in favor of real-life encounters isn’t so easy either. Meeting in real life now makes many people nervous, Albright says, as subtle conversation and flirting skills are lost through lack of practice, causing people to feel increasingly anxious and socially awkward.

As a result, many younger people prefer texting to talking. This can translate into fewer partners as digital hyper-connectivity replaces physical relationships.

The good news

Albright does see some positive aspects to online dating.

Early indicators show that relationships started online may be more successful. Online dating and social media can help people meet someone based on common interests and values that can predict a lasting relationship. They can also enable users to meet potential partners outside their normal social sphere, leading to more interracial relationships.

Postponing marriage may mean couples are more mature and marriages later in life tend to be more stable — good news, too, for older women, who tend to be more successful dating online than younger women.

“Online dating does open up new doors for people by giving them a place to begin again,” Albright says. For older people coming out of a divorce or a long relationship, particularly, and unused to dating, it offers hope.

And Albright’s advice for finding true love?

Avoid creating a false online persona, and take time to develop intimacy. But above all: Switch off your phone.

“Spend time together, get to know each other, look into each other’s eyes and make building that relationship a sacred space. Just make sure it’s without the intrusion of a device.”

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How Evil is Tech?

 

Hey TD!

We all love and appreciate technology. Like anything that began as good, however, it’s easy to indulge and be owned by it. Was that the intention all along? Is tech as innocuous as we think? What is actually going on behind our screens? What’s the intention for us?

A while ago, my son, Nathaniel, sent this over to me. I thought it was an insightful read by New York Times Op-Ed columnist and political and cultural commentator, David Brooks. I’d be interested to know your thoughts. Feel free to comment. – Arthur

How Evil Is Tech?

Not long ago, tech was the coolest industry. Everybody wanted to work at Google, Facebook and Apple. But over the past year the mood has shifted.

Some now believe tech is like the tobacco industry — corporations that make billions of dollars peddling a destructive addiction. Some believe it is like the N.F.L. — something millions of people love, but which everybody knows leaves a trail of human wreckage in its wake.

Surely the people in tech — who generally want to make the world a better place — don’t want to go down this road. It will be interesting to see if they can take the actions necessary to prevent their companies from becoming social pariahs.

There are three main critiques of big tech.

The first is that it is destroying the young. Social media promises an end to loneliness but actually produces an increase in solitude and an intense awareness of social exclusion. Texting and other technologies give you more control over your social interactions but also lead to thinner interactions and less real engagement with the world.

As Jean Twenge has demonstrated in book and essay, since the spread of the smartphone, teens are much less likely to hang out with friends, they are less likely to date, they are less likely to work.

Eighth graders who spend 10 or more hours a week on social media are 56 percent more likely to say they are unhappy than those who spend less time. Eighth graders who are heavy users of social media increase their risk of depression by 27 percent. Teens who spend three or more hours a day on electronic devices are 35 percent more likely to have a risk factor for suicide, like making a plan for how to do it. Girls, especially hard hit, have experienced a 50 percent rise in depressive symptoms.

The second critique of the tech industry is that it is causing this addiction on purpose, to make money. Tech companies understand what causes dopamine surges in the brain and they lace their products with “hijacking techniques” that lure us in and create “compulsion loops.

Snapchat has Snapstreak, which rewards friends who snap each other every single day, thus encouraging addictive behavior. News feeds are structured as “bottomless bowls” so that one page view leads down to another and another and so on forever. Most social media sites create irregularly timed rewards; you have to check your device compulsively because you never know when a burst of social affirmation from a Facebook like may come.

The third critique is that Apple, Amazon, Google and Facebook are near monopolies that use their market power to invade the private lives of their users and impose unfair conditions on content creators and smaller competitors. The political assault on this front is gaining steam. The left is attacking tech companies because they are mammoth corporations; the right is attacking them because they are culturally progressive. Tech will have few defenders on the national scene.

Obviously, the smart play would be for the tech industry to get out in front and clean up its own pollution. There are activists like Tristan Harris of Time Well Spent, who is trying to move the tech world in the right directions. There are even some good engineering responses. I use an app called Moment to track and control my phone usage.

The big breakthrough will come when tech executives clearly acknowledge the central truth: Their technologies are extremely useful for the tasks and pleasures that require shallower forms of consciousness, but they often crowd out and destroy the deeper forms of consciousness people need to thrive.

Online is a place for human contact but not intimacy. Online is a place for information but not reflection. It gives you the first stereotypical thought about a person or a situation, but it’s hard to carve out time and space for the third, 15th and 43rd thought.

Online is a place for exploration but discourages cohesion. It grabs control of your attention and scatters it across a vast range of diverting things. But we are happiest when we have brought our lives to a point, when we have focused attention and will on one thing, wholeheartedly with all our might.

Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel wrote that we take a break from the distractions of the world not as a rest to give us more strength to dive back in, but as the climax of living. “The seventh day is a palace in time which we build. It is made of soul, joy and reticence,” he said. By cutting off work and technology we enter a different state of consciousness, a different dimension of time and a different atmosphere, a “mine where the spirit’s precious metal can be found.”

Imagine if instead of claiming to offer us the best things in life, tech merely saw itself as providing efficiency devices. Its innovations can save us time on lower-level tasks so we can get offline and there experience the best things in life.

Imagine if tech pitched itself that way. That would be an amazing show of realism and, especially, humility, which these days is the ultimate and most disruptive technology.