We have a bias towards thinking of our relationships as stable—for the most part, we see the same people every day, there are the same people top of fold in our phones. Most people do in fact talk to and spend time with the same people day in and day out through work. Look a little closer. Do you keep up with your friends from college? The first city you lived in? High school? Coworkers from your first job? Look back at emails and other messages from five years ago. Scroll down to your old social media photos and see who was commenting and liking.
Are your parents still alive? They won’t be someday. Maybe sooner than you think. If you haven’t lost them, just wait. These losses, big and small, come for all of us. It’s not often in the present culture that we take stock about the next years and decades of our lives, what inevitably waits and what we should prepare for, but while our modern attention spans might be short, time flows just the same. How has our progress been in maintaining our connections?
Despite having been connected and networked so thoroughly, the modern West is a lonely place. The one respite was always family—the ‘second place’ of work has stuck around, even as ‘third places’ have been eaten by being online. But the first place, home and family? It’s withering.
Marriage, the most central relationship of life (and for a long time the start of other people’s lives) has become increasingly delayed, rare, and unstable; and with it so has our reproduction:
Every nation, every group of people on earth, are navigating this part of modern life poorly.
What the hell happened? Michael J. Rosenfeld of Stanford University’s sociology department investigated how couples met through time. What he and his team uncovered was that there is a sliding scale of “near to home” and “early in life” to “far from home” and “late in life”.
In 1940, over one-quarter of couples met in primary or secondary school, as often as they would meet through their friends or family, places and social situations close to home and early in life.
“Contrary to the scholarship about how previous technologies have reinforced face-to-face social networks, and contrary to Hypothesis 2, Internet dating has displaced friends and family from their former roles as key intermediaries in the formation of new unions. Disintermediation, i.e., the removal or subordination of the human intermediary between 2 parties, is a fundamental social outcome of the Internet.”
What was in progress in the post-War era was accelerated by online dating like pouring gasoline onto a fire. Just take look at how people have met against the actual marriage rate:
We’re clearly doing this ******all wrong.
We used to meet our partners through interested third parties like family, friends, and classmates. These trusted intermediaries would regulate the relationship in its early stages, providing context, social proof, and the encouragement of an endorsement by someone who knows you well. The shared social circle demanded accountability and established a common frame of reference for both man and woman. This all helped us make better and more confident long-term decisions about who we wanted to be with - and, crucially, earlier in life.
Compare that to today: we play a manic game of musical chairs. We’re not matched by close acquaintances with knowledge of our personality and character. We swipe through pictures considered for less than 2 seconds apiece, taken in front of the same tourist landmarks, with the same ‘love to travel!’ ‘love tacos!’ captions. (References to The Office, being ‘fluent in sarcasm’.)
It’s not just about a lack of fulfillment in our personal lives. Everything else demanding attention suffers as well. Those pressing issues of the day - climate, war, the economy - all require close-knit human relationships to untangle them. We can’t solve the challenges facing humanity if our best minds are occupied with looking for a mate.
One possibility is that as a species we need to all, at once, throw away our mobile phones, install landlines and pay phones, and turn off the internet outside of working hours. (If you know of such a community with these rules, please contact us.) That doesn’t seem like it’s very probable.
We have to meet people where they are and we need to take responsibility for ourselves, instead. Technology isn’t the cause of these problems, but how we use it and how much we’ve allowed it to warp our priorities is. The first step is taking ahold of our lives and making sure finding a serious relationship is an actual goal. The second step is using the technology we have and can create, for the people we’ve got, to get them those things. Marriage and family are the mainstays of a life well-lived, and if we don’t take them seriously, that rate line will keep going down, even as, or perhaps especially as, we spend more time online fruitlessly looking for them.
We’re building Keeper because your grandparents were right. Dating apps are frivolous and are unserious, and there’s nothing more serious than real family bonds. Dating apps are destroying relationships. So we will destroy dating apps. We’re glad you’re here for the ride.