As technology continues to enhance at an ever-accelerating rate, it brings with it humanity-shifting changes that fundamentally alter the way we, as a species, function. From the invention of the telephone, which connected two people, verbally, between any two points on the planet, to computers, which allow us to make ourselves millionaires from the comfort of our homes. Since the dawn of the “modern human”, some 70,000 years ago, no one-hundred-year period has brought with it so much change to our species as the one we’re currently in. Since electricity first sparked, mankind has continually pushed the boundaries of what is possible, and this push continues to grow at an alarmingly exponential rate, and will continue to do so long into the future as long as we don’t destroy ourselves and our planet in the process.
Things that couldn’t even be dreamed of fifty years ago are, today, considered out-dated and obsolete. What we today consider the stuff of sci-fi movies will, in fifty years, be out of fashion and long-gone. Of all the fundamental aspects of our species to have changed dramatically with the dawn of the internet age, dating is one of the most severe.
Just twenty years back, give or take, if you wanted to go out on a date, you had to put in the effort. You had to get out there in the world. You had to meet people. You had to have the courage to go and talk to someone. To ask them out on a date. To lean in for that first kiss. To risk rejection and humiliation. Today all you have to do is look down at your smartphone, instantly decide whether a person is someone you like based solely on the look of their face or body, and swipe left or right. If they don’t match your ever-increasing demands for “sexy” or “beauty”, that person is most likely gone, at the swipe of a thumb, from your life – forever. How has it come to this? How can we truly find someone we could eventually share a true connection with when all we have to go on is how they look for a single, rehearsed, perfected moment captured at some point in their past? And more importantly, where does this road lead us as we trudge on, blindly, into the vastly unknown future?
I’ve never been a fan of so-called “dating apps” and websites, and I make no secret of that fact. I prefer the more “traditional” approach of physically meeting someone. So when I was asked to buckle up and delve into the world of dating apps for an entire week and write about my experiences, to explore just what it was like, as both a male and a female, it would be safe to say I was intrigued and hesitant in equal measures. But not one to shy away from an interesting challenge, I buckled up.
And so I downloaded the first app that came up in the search results. With pre-approved profile pictures, I created my false aliases. In less than a minute, I was there; online; date-ready; wondering where this was going to take me.
I had a notion of how each gender was going to pan out in this world. And while, as a woman, the barrage of penis was not in the least bit unexpected, as a man, I was somewhat surprised with the journey. To save confusion, I’ll split my results into two sections.
Katie. Female. 28.
I won’t go into too much explanation here. If you’re reading this, then you know how to use technology (at least somewhat), and therefore you probably know that the internet is a breeding ground for sexual attention, aggression and lust from men (and sometimes women) for a young, attractive female. Receiving well over twenty messages a day from twenty swipes, over half of these began with a “Hello…” and ended with a penis – an odd conversation for someone not expecting quite such immediate bluntness (no pun intended).
Conversations to “Katie” ranged from pleasant messages (usually still ending in penis), to aggressive, sexually threatening ones (always ending in angry penis). Everything seemed to end in penis and by the end of the week, I can safely say I’d seen far more penis than any heterosexual man ever need see. I’m “all penis’d out”, you might say.
Having written on how men act online before, I won’t delve into it much further. My findings were neither unexpected or unsurprising. My side of the species is often (not always, but often) a nasty piece of work when it comes to online “dating”. Moving on.
Tom. Male. 28.
So here I was, ‘Tom’. A single, attractive guy “Looking to chat”. I’d already decided I wasn’t going to strike up any conversations with anyone. That was my rule. I would look. I would swipe. I would chat, briefly, to someone if they spoke to me first. I was not to deviate from that plan. It was my safety net. And it was almost completely adhered to.
11 minutes in
I had seven different messages from seven different women. Five of them were variations of “I want you to fuck me”, “Show me your cock” and “Wanna fuck?”. Three of them included nude pictures. What the…? Knowing absolutely nothing about me, these people were throwing nude photographs of themselves at me. They were making themselves completely and utterly available to a total stranger who knew their names, what they looked like, their age, and what city or town they lived in. I was not prepared for this.
Had I been naive? Had I even been sexist against my own sex for thinking it was really just men who thrust themselves, groin-first, into a stranger’s eyes?
I spent seven days as Tom and while he was an attractive chap, I did not expect such a barrage of boobs and vagina. And while I appreciate such things as much as the next guy, not overly so in this context. Even I, a man with no self-esteem or confidence issues, felt almost intimidated by such a fierce bombardment of unwarranted vagina.
I will point out, during the course of the week, the females were not quite as sexually forward and open as the men, and certainly not quite as aggressive. But I was nonetheless shocked at just how willing some of them were to send nude pictures and suggest sex that evening. In an age where a picture sent online is a picture that lives in the public domain for the rest of human civilisation, it concerns me just how willing people are to lay all bare.
There were some, of course, who had no intention of exposing or suggesting such things. Some were just looking for friends, looking for love, looking to chat and have a laugh and meet new people. These people are the kind of people who can actually benefit (providing they are careful) from such apps and websites. I refuse to believe that we, as a species, are fundamentally bad. I refuse to believe there are more people out there wishing to harm others than help. I believe there are more people in the history of mankind that have helped and cared for others, than harmed. But there is something about online anonymity that brings out the worst in bad people, and apps like these are breeding grounds for people like this to inflict harm on others and this is the reason why peoples’ openness in places like this concerns me. And not just for the individuals that do it, but for society as a whole.
Technology will never stop growing, enhancing, evolving. As long as humans exist, technology will speed by faster than we can control it.
In most areas of life, this is – I feel – a great thing. It is what will ultimately lead us to the stars. It is what will eventually cure our cancers and reverse our damage to the planet.
But in some areas, my optimism isn’t quite so strong. I’m not saying online dating is a “bad” thing. I know plenty of wonderful people who’ve met through dating apps and fallen madly in love and remain together years later. It’s safe to say, it’s not outwith the realm of possibility to meet a superhero who makes you smile every day. But we, as a people, need to be careful we don’t lose site of what it is to truly meet someone. To date. To love. To respect. To be human.