Modern love

时间:2018-09-08 单词数:10410

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THE internet has transformed the way people work and communicate. It has upended industries, from entertainment to retailing. But its most profound effect may well be on the biggest decision that most people make—choosing a mate.

互联网改变了人们工作和沟通的方式。 它颠覆了从娱乐到零售等各个行业。但它造成最深刻影响的很可能是大多数人 此生所做决定中最大的一个--择偶。

In the early 1990s the notion of meeting a partner online seemed freakish, and not a little pathetic. Today, in many places, it is normal. Smartphones have put virtual bars in people’s pockets, where singletons can mingle free from the constraints of social or physical geography. Globally, at least 200m people use digital dating services every month. In America more than a third of marriages now start with an online match-up. The internet is the second-most-popular way for Americans to meet people of the opposite sex, and is fast catching up with real-world “friend of a friend”introductions.

回到上世纪90年代初,那时在网上找伴侣的想法还显得很古怪,而且让人觉得很可悲。如今在许多地方这已毫不稀奇。智能手机把虚拟酒吧放进了人们的口袋,单身人士可以在这里摆脱社会 分布或现实空间的限制,自由交往。在 全球,每月至少有两亿人使用数字约 会服务。在美国,现在超过三分之一的婚姻是从在线配对开始。互联网是美国人第二喜欢的结交异性的方式,并且正在迅速赶上现实世界中“朋友的朋友”这种介绍方式。

Digital dating is a massive social experiment, conducted on one of humanity’s most intimate and vital processes. Its effects are only just starting to become visible (see Briefing).


When Harry clicked on Sally


Meeting a mate over the internet is fundamentally different from meeting one offline. In the physical world, partners are found in family networks or among circles of friends and colleagues. Meeting a friend of a friend is the norm. People who meet online are overwhelmingly likely to be strangers. As a result, dating digitally offers much greater choice. A bar, choir or office might have a few tens of potential partners for any one person. Online there are tens of thousands.

在网上结识配偶与线下交往完全不同。在现实世界中,人们在家庭网络或 朋友和同事圈中找到另一半。结识朋友 的朋友是常态。而在网上遇到的人绝大 多数都是陌生人。因此,数字约会提供 的选择要多得多。酒吧、合唱团或办公室可能会为任何一个人提供几十个潜在 的伴侣,而网络能提供千千万万个。

This greater choice—plus the fact that digital connections are made only with mutual consent—makes the digital dating market far more efficient than the offline kind. For some, that is bad news. Because of the gulf in pickiness between the sexes, a few straight men are doomed never to get any matches at all. On Tantan, a Chinese app, men express interest in 60% of women they see, but women are interested in just 6% of men; this dynamic means that 5% of men never receive a match. In offline dating, with a much smaller pool of men to fish from, straight women are more likely to couple up with men who would not get a look-in online.


For most people, however, digital dating offers better outcomes. Research has found that marriages in America between people who meet online are likely to last longer; such couples profess to be happier than those who met offline. The whiff of moral panic surrounding dating apps is vastly overblown. Precious little evidence exists to show that opportunities online are encouraging infidelity. In America, divorce rates climbed until just before the advent of the internet, and have fallen since.


Online dating is a particular boon for those with very particular requirements. Jdate allows daters to filter out matches who would not consider converting to Judaism, for instance. A vastly bigger market has had dramatic results for same-sex daters in particular. In America, 70% of gay people meet their partners online. This searchable spectrum of sexual diversity is a boon: more people can find the intimacy they seek.


There are problems with the modern way of love, however. Many users complain of stress when confronted with the brutal realities of the digital meat market, and their place within it. Negative emotions about body image existed before the internet, but they are amplified when strangers can issue snap judgments on attractiveness. Digital dating has been linked to depression. The same problems that afflict other digital platforms recur in this realm, from scams to fake accounts: 10% of all newly created dating profiles do not belong to real people.


This new world of romance may also have unintended consequences for society. The fact that online daters have so much more choice can break down barriers: evidence suggests that the internet is boosting interracial marriages by bypassing homogenous social groups. But daters are also more able to choose partners like themselves. Assortative mating, the process whereby people with similar education levels and incomes pair up, already shoulders some of the blame for income inequality. Online dating may make the effect more pronounced: education levels are displayed prominently on dating profiles in a way they would never be offline. It is not hard to imagine dating services of the future matching people by preferred traits, as determined by uploaded genomes. Dating firms also suffer from an inherent conflict of interest. Perfect matching would leave them bereft of paying customers.

这个新的浪漫世界也可能为社会带来意想不到的后果。既然约会者的选择机会极大增加,他们之间的阻隔就可能被冲破:证据表明,由于可以绕过同质社会群体,互联网正在促进跨种族婚姻。但与此同时,约会者也更能够选择与自己相像的伴侣。所谓的“同型婚配”,也就 是具有相似教育和收入水平的人配对,已被指为导致收入不平等的原因之一。而在线约会可能会使这种影响愈加明显,这是因为受教育水平的信息就那么 显眼地摆在个人介绍上,而在线下永远不会这么展示。不难想象,未来的约会 服务可能会根据用户上传的基因组信息 通过优选特征来匹配对象。约会公司也面临固有的利益冲突:完美配对又会让它们失去付费客户。

The domination of online dating by a handful of firms and their algorithms is another source of worry. Dating apps do not benefit from exactly the same sort of network effects as other tech platforms: a person’s friends do not need to be on a specific dating site, for example. But the feedback loop between large pools of data, generated by ever-growing numbers of users attracted to an ever-improving product, still exists. The entry into the market of Facebook, armed with data from its 2.2bn users, will provide clues as to whether online dating will inexorably consolidate into fewer, larger platforms.


While you were swiping


But even if the market does not become ever more concentrated, the process of coupling (or not) has unquestionably become more centralised. Romance used to be a distributed activity which took place in a profusion of bars, clubs, churches and offices; now enormous numbers of people rely on a few companies to meet their mate. That hands a small number of coders, tweaking the algorithms that determine who sees whom across the virtual bar, tremendous power to engineer mating outcomes. In authoritarian societies especially, the prospect of algorithmically arranged marriages ought to cause some disquiet. Competition offers some protection against such a possibility; so too might greater transparency over the principles used by dating apps to match people up.


Yet such concerns should not obscure the good that comes from the modern way of romance. The right partners can elevate and nourish each other. The wrong ones can ruin both their lives. Digital dating offers millions of people a more efficient way to find a good mate. That is something to love.