How Technology is Transforming Dating from Russian Roulette to a Drone Strike and Potentially Turning Us All into Douches in the Process

Last night I was out with some friends for a bar crawl/scavenger hunt and had an experience that caused me to think about how people interact when it comes down to the initial interaction between two people in dating.

When it comes to approaching someone you are interested in, lets say at a bar, alcohol is looked at as the social lubricant — it gives you the little extra boost of confidence to take the first step towards that person and on the other side of the interaction, the alcohol may make what that other person is saying seem less stupid. But with the proliferation of dating websites and apps, has technology usurped alcohol as the social lubricant for dating? And, while applications like Tinder, OK Cupid and Plenty of Fish are designed to help people find that other person, are they instead limiting interaction because instead of essentially saying “fuck it” and going for any random person, technology has transformed dating into online shopping of people?

This is a question I asked myself after last night because I was caught in the middle of a full court press. Lets set up situation. Again, I was out on a bar crawl/scavenger hunt with a team of eight people in downtown El Paso.

As part of this event, we moved from bar to bar. By the second bar, one of our teammates had seen two guys, lets call them Brick (after Brick Tamland) and Kale (guy was ridiculously hipster) she knew and started talking to them — coincidentally they were on one of the other teams.

Eventually, we got to the fourth bar with our team and a couple other teams. By midnight, all of my team had left, except for my female teammate, Brick and Kale. Brick left our table to go talk to a table that had three women sitting at it. He didn’t previously know them but after a bunch of shots, walked over there. While Brick was busy, Kale started to put the full court press on my friend — and full disclosure I don’t know the intricacies of their friendship or relationship, so anything I say is solely based on my interaction and observations of last night. As Kale engaged with my friend, he highlighted personal accomplishments — like that he only drinks liquor and had already drank a lot but it doesn’t effect him, that he isn’t afraid of flying and that he is an attorney and other things to boost his psudomasculine persona. So while this was happening, Brick was loosing some ground with his interaction because another guy went to their table and shifted the attention and dynamic to focus on him.

With this happening, Brick got up and pretended to go to the bathroom by doing a lap around the bar and eventually coming back to our table. From there, my friend, Kale and I started to ask him what happened. Brick let us know that he had gotten the woman’s number and was satisfied and said he would text her later. We all thought he was full of it, and proceeded to make fun of him to the point of him finally walking back, but this time with my friend. That left me at the table with Kale.

We got to know each other a little bit more, friendly guy but to be frank, douchey. Let me pause for a second to describe what Kale looks like — and while there are many things in life that are more important than looks, there is no question that looks play a huge role in how a person is perceived and at the most basic level contributes to the determination of attractiveness. Kale is a short guy, 5’7 “, skinny jeans, white Henley with top three buttons undone, heavy stubble and a mohawk — basic hipster template. Kale and I then discuss life experiences, small talk, etc. Eventually, Brick comes back to the table, then my friend comes back and we decide to go to the next bar. But before leaving, Kale preforms a feat of strength by drinking 2 ½ beers/cider to demonstrate his masculinity.

From there, the four of us proceed to walk to the last bar of the night. As we are walking, we are discussing how Brick and Kale know each other (through work) and Kale continues to say, “I only met this guy six weeks ago, so don’t judge me by him.” Then Kale does something that I can only equate to a shirtless selfie, and says, “I’m the coolest, I’m an attorney with a mohawk.” At that moment, I wasn’t sure to laugh or swaddle him in a blanket and tell him that everything will be all right[1]. We eventually make it to the last bar, but not without saying goodbye to Brick.

Now it’s just the three of us, and Kale continues to build himself up and put a full court press on my friend. The night then ends — but it makes me ask.

Could all of this been avoided if my friend had been using a dating app? In an app, it’s likely that Kale

would have had pictures of himself with his mohawk in court, in a bathtub drinking liquor and looking smart. Also, details about where he has lived, his job, and how much he can drink would be in his profile description. From there, it’s just as easy as a left swipe.

So while technology is helping people cut through the superficial layers of a person more quickly and casts a wider net for connection, it is also contributing in limiting interactions between people.

What I mean by this is that with the use of dating applications, we have transformed that initial interaction from Russian roulette (Brick’s experience) — when you aren’t really sure what you are getting — to more of a drone strike — calculated, targeted and driven by data.

And this is where the risk of missing an opportunity you never knew you had arises, when your biases and preferences are over-catered to. For instance, while I may have a “type” of woman I am attracted to (petite, brunette or blonde, long hair, nice smile), when using an application I can be very specific, like no women with attached earlobes (just an example, I don’t actually care). But it is this specificity that can create barriers and limit interaction.

And while applications give users the benefit of cutting through the most superficial information, it does nothing to reassure someone of the credibility of that other person. Granted, there are certain signs that give a user an indication about another person, for instance, a picture with a dog signals that the person isn’t a total monster or a shirtless picture tells the user they are looking at a tool.

What’s missing is that warm introduction — a reference from someone that you know or knows someone you know — that vouches for your credibility. While not exactly a warm introduction, the fact that my friend went over to the table with Brick was a signal to the other woman. Tinder does include a Common Connection section, but this is driven by your Facebook friends, and many of us have so many friends we don’t remember who some of those people are. You could argue that by only dating people that are connected to you social circle is limiting, but in reality, it isn’t as limiting as you think — just look at your 2ndand 3rdlevel connections on Linkedin and it will give you a good idea about how wide your social circle really is.

Back to the original question, at this point, yes, I do think technology is the new social lubricant — it’s easier to text someone than talk to them face to face. But the fact that I can swipe through 50 women in an 30 minutes like I am online shopping for a shirt can reprogram how a person views and values people as more of an object than a person. And this is nothing new, it’s been perpetuated by the bro culture over time, but technology is acting as the catalyst for quicker propagation of this culture.

Technology could have saved those three women and my friend from the douchebaggery of Brick and Kale, but it isn’t a douchebag catchall and could actually contribute to turning themselves into douches. One thing is clear; technology is at least getting rid of that awkward drunk interaction but in the process, is creating more complex cultural issues.

[1] At this point you may think I am being a little too harsh and likely have a bias because I rather be the person dating my friend, on this — you’ve got me. But in full disclosure, I deleted the worst stuff to keep it above board as much as possible.

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Originally published at on August 1, 2015.