Net Connection

Online dating has become a hobby, one that is often not even that fun

Dating has gone from seeking soulmates to swiping faces to kill time. What happened?

The scene described in Nancy Jo Sales’s huge Tinder report published in Vanity Fair magazine featured groups of twenty-something friends and colleagues in a Manhattan bar relaxing after work. But rather than socialising with each other they were engrossed in the more private world of their mobile phones, seeking something completely personal: a sexual partner (albeit not necessarily just for sex).

The group of friends were, in Sherry Turkle’s words “alone together” – with moments of togetherness erupting when a particularly ridiculous response or attractive photo just had to be shared among the group.

A much commented-upon new development sees people going out in groups yet – once they’ve got their Mojitos – retreating into the private, disembodied social worlds of their phones. More striking still than this curious spectacle of millennials passing time on dating apps is the new emotional climate that they’ve created. It is one of boredom and amusement-seeking, and a lifestyle in which date-seeking, but not necessarily dating itself, serves as a casual hobby rather than an awkward, laborious, money- and time-intensive effort it might take to meet a soulmate when serendipity has failed.

The social hobbification of online dating has certainly arisen in contrast to its origins. Mediated dating, particularly by computer technology, used to be an embarrassing and profoundly lonely pursuit. Rendered secretive and personal, it seemed to invite addictive or compulsive behaviour – something to brush even further under the carpet than the news that you were using it at all.

Kate Bush captured both the allure and the sorrow of the emotional surrogacy of computers in her song Deeper Understanding (1989):
As the people here grow colder

I turn to my computer

And spend my evenings with it

Like a friend … well I’ve never felt such pleasure

I was lonely, I was lost without my little black box.



Whether people took out small ads, used professional matchmakers, employed computer dating company Dateline, or tried television or phone dating, most people kept their technology-mediated dating to themselves. I’ve found that this reticence and embarrassment is something that surrounds pre-internet dating. Millions of people used such services, but it’s hard to find them, and when you, do most say it never occurred to them to share their experiences.

Kate Bush’s powerful image of the lonely heart drinking in the computer’s artificial intimacy conjures up these feelings of shame – a feeling perhaps compounded by the idea that using technology to help meet people ironically deepened your social alienation. The perception was that you must be lacking in some way to require it; the “natural” system of mutual chemistry couldn’t work because something was wrong with you.

Enter social media

But then social media came along and blurred the lines between the personal and the social, the celebratory and the embarrassing. The assumption (though hardly rock-solid) that mediated dating signified failure was reversed. This unconsciously built upon 1980s matchmakers’ marketing spiel that desirable people were single not because of a lack of appeal, but because of a lack of time. Tinder has taken this a step further by making casual dating a perfectly acceptable thing to do whether you’re short of time or not – dating to kill time.

Internet-based dating has also got a lot better. So where former customers hankered for, but lacked control and convenience, today’s finely-tuned geographic (Happn, for example) and social sensors make tech-dating more instantaneously gratifying. Some sites like eHarmony, claim to be exploring the use of DNA, virtual reality and the latest behavioural psychology, excitedly predicting “full-sensory virtual dating” by 2040.

In other words, the online dating industry is keenly interested in using the latest technology to, or at least appear to, solve the quandary of chemistry. And they’re not keeping quiet about it: if advertisers and editors continue to lap up such claims, then would-be daters are less likely to consider it embarrassing. Online dating is just too useful to be ashamed of these days.

App arrival

Finally, the rise of the dating app – which depends largely for its initial success on your digital social network, not your sexual power – has shifted feelings about mediated dating. Those twenty-somethings in the bar became habituated to online dating apps on their phones in part because they just couldn’t be bothered to answer all those questionnaires, nor care enough to pay for a fully-fledged dating website. Tinder culture is cool and casual, where paid-for online dating and its predecessors were or at least could easily be perceived to be a bit intense and heavy-breathing, and rank with the odour of sadness and failure.

In other words, a realm of private pursuit threatened by social and personal humiliation and disappointment:
Mr Peter Simper, a 34-year-old salesman from London, paid £125 for his life membership last July. He received no dates.

—The Guardian, May 23, 1982

Without making assumptions about the very real emotional experiences that can follow the use of Tinder and others like it, using mediated dating has moved beyond the odd and into the everyday and the insouciant. As such it has become a bit like smoking weed – good if you like smoking weed, but not so much if you hate the red eyes, fatigue, apathy and blurred vision that goes with it.

Zoe Strimpel, Doctoral researcher, University of Sussex.

This article was originally published on The Conversation.


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Swara Bhasker: Sharp objects has to be on the radar of every woman who is tired of being “nice”

The actress weighs in on what she loves about the show.

This article has been written by award-winning actor Swara Bhasker.

All women growing up in India, South Asia, or anywhere in the world frankly; will remember in some form or the other that gentle girlhood admonishing, “Nice girls don’t do that.” I kept recalling that gently reasoned reproach as I watched Sharp Objects (you can catch it on Hotstar Premium). Adapted from the author of Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn’s debut novel Sharp Objects has been directed by Jean-Marc Vallée, who has my heart since he gave us Big Little Lies. It stars the multiple-Oscar nominee Amy Adams, who delivers a searing performance as Camille Preaker; and Patricia Clarkson, who is magnetic as the dominating and dark Adora Crellin. As an actress myself, it felt great to watch a show driven by its female performers.

The series is woven around a troubled, alcohol-dependent, self-harming, female journalist Camille (single and in her thirties incidentally) who returns to the small town of her birth and childhood, Wind Gap, Missouri, to report on two similarly gruesome murders of teenage girls. While the series is a murder mystery, it equally delves into the psychology, not just of the principal characters, but also of the town, and thus a culture as a whole.

There is a lot that impresses in Sharp Objects — the manner in which the storytelling gently unwraps a plot that is dark, disturbing and shocking, the stellar and crafty control that Jean-Marc Vallée exercises on his narrative, the cinematography that is fluid and still manages to suggest that something sinister lurks within Wind Gap, the editing which keeps this narrative languid yet sharp and consistently evokes a haunting sensation.

Sharp Objects is also liberating (apart from its positive performance on Bechdel parameters) as content — for female actors and for audiences in giving us female centric and female driven shows that do not bear the burden of providing either role-models or even uplifting messages. 

Instead, it presents a world where women are dangerous and dysfunctional but very real — a world where women are neither pure victims, nor pure aggressors. A world where they occupy the grey areas, complex and contradictory as agents in a power play, in which they control some reigns too.

But to me personally, and perhaps to many young women viewers across the world, what makes Sharp Objects particularly impactful, perhaps almost poignant, is the manner in which it unravels the whole idea, the culture, the entire psychology of that childhood admonishment “Nice girls don’t do that.” Sharp Objects explores the sinister and dark possibilities of what the corollary of that thinking could be.

“Nice girls don’t do that.”

“Who does?”

“Bad girls.”

“So I’m a bad girl.”

“You shouldn’t be a bad girl.”

“Why not?”

“Bad girls get in trouble.”

“What trouble? What happens to bad girls?”

“Bad things.”

“What bad things?”

“Very bad things.”

“How bad?”

“Terrible!!!”

“Like what?”

“Like….”

A point the show makes early on is that both the victims of the introductory brutal murders were not your typically nice girly-girls. Camille, the traumatised protagonist carrying a burden from her past was herself not a nice girl. Amma, her deceptive half-sister manipulates the nice girl act to defy her controlling mother. But perhaps the most incisive critique on the whole ‘Be a nice girl’ culture, in fact the whole ‘nice’ culture — nice folks, nice manners, nice homes, nice towns — comes in the form of Adora’s character and the manner in which beneath the whole veneer of nice, a whole town is complicit in damning secrets and not-so-nice acts. At one point early on in the show, Adora tells her firstborn Camille, with whom she has a strained relationship (to put it mildly), “I just want things to be nice with us but maybe I don’t know how..” Interestingly it is this very notion of ‘nice’ that becomes the most oppressive and deceptive experience of young Camille, and later Amma’s growing years.

This ‘Culture of Nice’ is in fact the pervasive ‘Culture of Silence’ that women all over the world, particularly in India, are all too familiar with. 

It takes different forms, but always towards the same goal — to silence the not-so-nice details of what the experiences; sometimes intimate experiences of women might be. This Culture of Silence is propagated from the child’s earliest experience of being parented by society in general. Amongst the values that girls receive in our early years — apart from those of being obedient, dutiful, respectful, homely — we also receive the twin headed Chimera in the form of shame and guilt.

“Have some shame!”

“Oh for shame!”

“Shameless!”

“Shameful!”

“Ashamed.”

“Do not bring shame upon…”

Different phrases in different languages, but always with the same implication. Shameful things happen to girls who are not nice and that brings ‘shame’ on the family or everyone associated with the girl. And nice folks do not talk about these things. Nice folks go on as if nothing has happened.

It is this culture of silence that women across the world today, are calling out in many different ways. Whether it is the #MeToo movement or a show like Sharp Objects; or on a lighter and happier note, even a film like Veere Di Wedding punctures this culture of silence, quite simply by refusing to be silenced and saying the not-nice things, or depicting the so called ‘unspeakable’ things that could happen to girls. By talking about the unspeakable, you rob it of the power to shame you; you disallow the ‘Culture of Nice’ to erase your experience. You stand up for yourself and you build your own identity.

And this to me is the most liberating aspect of being an actor, and even just a girl at a time when shows like Sharp Objects and Big Little Lies (another great show on Hotstar Premium), and films like Veere Di Wedding and Anaarkali Of Aarah are being made.

The next time I hear someone say, “Nice girls don’t do that!”, I know what I’m going to say — I don’t give a shit about nice. I’m just a girl! And that’s okay!

Swara is a an award winning actor of the Hindi film industry. Her last few films, including Veere Di Wedding, Anaarkali of Aaraah and Nil Battey Sannata have earned her both critical and commercial success. Swara is an occasional writer of articles and opinion pieces. The occasions are frequent :).

Watch the trailer of Sharp Objects here:

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This article was published by the Scroll marketing team with Swara Bhasker on behalf of Hotstar Premium and not by the Scroll editorial team.