For all mathematical abstraction presented in the biographical “A Theory of Everything,” it is not Stephen Hawking’s ideas in theoretical physics that are the most eye-opening but rather his tumultuous personal life. The most heartwarming scenes have Mr. Hawking, with a looming, childish gaze, fixated on the women of his life (or, in their absence, a Penthouse magazine). The serendipitous meeting between Mr. Hawking and his future wife at Cambridge is particularly touching. It seemed like in one deciding gaze, an intractable equality was solved.
This is not the first film about romance afforded to an afflicted genius. In 2002, A Beautiful Mind won best picture for a film about the schizophrenic father of modern game theory. It’s a testament to the curiosity of the general movie-goer for a glimpse into the mind of genius. Although the actual theories and propositions are inaccessible to the viewer, their love lives are.
To the credit of the film, it portrays Jane, Stephen’s first wife, as a heroic figure, dealing without complaint with all the tribulations of having a vegetable husband. Her confidence first shows when after a delirious night of conversation she hands Stephen a napkin with her phone number scribbled inside. He later invites her to a ball, when he adamantly admits his disdain for dancing. Then in a moment of clarity, his degeneration already apparent, they awkwardly embrace and dance a most dashing dance. It was as though, for a fraction of a second, time had stopped. Or as Hawking would put it, they were sucked into a black hole.
I will not pretend to be an expert in sociology, and my own reference of old-world courtship is through the shows and films I watch. This medium will no doubt introduce bias. But shall we begin by noting this exchange between Hawking and Jane occurred in a place not too far from ours in a time not too long ago, between people not too different than ourselves. The past may always seem better than the present, but in this case, is the past not decidedly more civilized, more romantic, more dignified than today. These two participants were university students, like you and I were a few months ago, and met with some liquid enablers in hand as we always do, in places where they could actually hear each other talk. When needed, they could easily find refuge leagues away from anyone else.
It is almost inexplicable how there can be such a divergence in courting practices over the last 30 years. Yes, since then Hawking has published on black hole radiation, computers have been invented and bankers have become the new celebrities (or villains). That would explain the outgrowth of tinder couples, but not the massive turn to the sensory deprivation method of our time. It seems that the objective now is to warp, mask, or disregard reality in an effort to create the largest possible sample size.
Should we note that in the aftermath of WWI, the Brits were sensibly turned to a romanticized form of courtship unseen by aristocrats in the prior period. Faces turned when the widowed Mary Crawley, tested the waters with a potential suitor in Liverpool. Courting in British aristocratic circles is characterized by a clear and weighty forward momentum. Both sides are decidedly honest and straightforward with their intentions. An effort is made to play out the possibility. The basic premise seems to hold from Hawking to time immemorial. At some point between Hawking and the present, the focus turned from getting to know as much about someone to trying to know was little about the other person as possible. It's a phenomenon that seems to have no rational explanation, though admittedly these processes are hardly rational.
The reason for these aberrations, I believe, is the change in the amount of free time we have. Technology has intruded into every part of our lives, giving us unbelievable access to information, and keeps us wired at all times. Wealth has concentrated in a small group of people who can complement technology; all others are losing share. The implications for courtship is twofold: people in the small group will find fewer compatible mates – this is exacerbated by the limited amount of time afforded to each participant. Thus the result is an effort to maximize n.
It is encouraging, however, to find that technology is having an opposite effect to the recent phenomenon. It can be argued that new methods of meeting others, like Tinder, are a direct response to the messy way that is prevalent today. At the very least, participants on Tinder can be briefed on the candidate and proceed to chat with them. It follows a systematic rigour found earlier; it gives participants control. It focuses on getting to know one another first (though that is not always the case).
Technology had a twofold effect of dehumanizing dating: it stratified society and tied 20-somethings to their blackberries. Finally, technology is having an opposite effect. It was nothing short of a revolution that would engulf the most pressing part of our post-undergraduate lives. Consider an app that tracks people that you could have met by GPS, and lets you chat with them if you can identify what he or she was wearing, or what he or she said in conversation. A correspondence would only initiate if both parties reach out. The chore of getting each other’s numbers will disappear. You have access to every person you meet, but only if he or she is on the same page. This was my idea of a dating app, and not half a year later, it would come out. It is called Happn. It is available in Toronto and in most major cities. In the industry of romance, there are apps for essentially every purpose imaginable.
The first evidence of this trend was when a nutty techie invented “Joysper” at Queen’s University, the epicentre of youthful gallivants (see http://randwalk.com/blog/2013/11/24/pick-your-poison-partying-culture-at-queens-university). Joysper (seehttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZAG5jxnaiRk) was the first Tinder, a novel way to meet people in the information age. Of course, online dating had already been prevalent, but was relegated to socially obtuse and desperate participants. Joysper made online dating cool by implementing a double-blind matching process that requires no explanation to readers of this blog-post. Tinder made the Joysper method ubiquitous by taking the concept mobile.
Thereafter, more apps followed, each with its unique attributes: Coffee Meets Bagel offers one match a day; Happn connects you with people you’ve passed by; OkCupid is a widely used dating website-turned-app, Grindr is for gay men; Momo is for Asians; and so on. It is not unlikely for participants to be on many of these platforms since tiptoeing around is no formula for love. It is the initial acceptance of app-based dating that requires thought. The decision is uneasy and fraught with concerns; so it needs to be treated comprehensively. The following paragraphs try to offer a framework to consider app-based dating.
We must recognize the benefits of app-based dating. They are highly efficient at creating opportunities. Traditional online dating increases each participant’s reach. App-based dating have lowered the risk of each opportunity, and have helped participants focus on the most high-probability targets. The methodology is sound – Tinder is wildly popular. Success stories are plentiful. Importantly, Tinder is a diversified platform that offers participants different options: it is generally considered useful for most intentions.
The proliferation of Tinder and OkCupid have caused a stir. Controversies abound over vanity, racism, instant gratification, misrepresentation, self-validation. It’s enough to scare any potential user away. But these criticisms are hardly isolated to online dating. They can be applied in general. Intelligent people believe that dating preferences should not be subject to the same watchful eye of racism. So it is no surprise that on OkCupid, being black costs you almost a star on your rating (http://www.wsj.com/articles/book-review-dataclysm-by-christian-rudder-1412372499). It seems highly arbitrary to carve out one whole branch of life, especially such an important one, and give it immunity from race concerns. A better policy is to recognize the problem and do our best to control it. Unlike racism, which is cultural, being looksist is biological. Because it is engrained years of evolutionary biology, it is a true injustice for which there is almost no defence other than the slow ticking of evolution.
The question of Tinder is, therefore, not that they produce lookists and racist results, since that is produced in any interaction between humans. Rather, the question must be if they espouse greater racism or looksism. The answer is no. Whether it is on an iPhone or across Alehouse, the first interaction is an image.
The most scathing criticisms can be mitigated but less apparent problems exist. There is no evidence of efficacy beyond ability to create relationships. The resultant Tinder couples have not been compared to control group couples on relevant metrics like quality, length and satisfaction. More problematic is the skew towards accepting more than rejecting: there is no cost of “swiping right” whereas the cost of “swiping left” is not knowing. This skew creates potentially insincere matches that can be unpleasant and a waste of time. Tinder can also be vulgar and even dangerous. Morally, depending on your stance, it can be questioned for its contravention of Colossians 3, and the analogous chapter in other major moral codes.
Most of the concerns can be taken care of. Each individual can use it to his or her advantage, according to his or her goals, in adherence to his or her moral code. It can be used intensely or precisely. It is by no means mutually exclusive with other forms of courtship. Thus the question seems to have evolved from whether or not to use Tinder to how it should be used. The app appears capable of at least adding value at the margins, without excessive risks or costs. More likely, it will change human behaviour.