'We are living in an isolation that would have been unimaginable to our ancestors, and yet we have never been more accessible...We have never been more detached from one another, or lonelier. In a world consumed by ever more novel modes of socializing, we have less and less actual society' ('Facebook Is Making Us Lonely' by Stephen Marche).
In an age when everyone is looking at the screen in their hand, how can we find time to look up and notice those around us? To connect with other people, form friendships or even... fall in love? For many people online dating and social media sites provide opportunities to bump into the right (or wrong) kind of person.
Author of 'WTF Is Up With My Love Life?!' Jessica Massa says that people are increasingly engaging in techno-romance: 'the rampant use of technologies to cultivate and explore romantic, sexual and flirtatious interactions, and even relationships'.
Online dating is championed by some and condemned by others. While some find techno-love others find themselves jilted at the screen. Like any social activity, online dating involves risks. As Erik Stinson for The Atlantic points out, we can manipulate others’ perception of us online. ‘The image – especially that of the main profile – is the center of this useful deception…The image speaks with a voice of self-promotion’. And people will go to great lengths to make the right one, from photo-shopping to photo-cropping. Online dating has a dark side that deals in deception, but then again, don’t we always present those we don’t know with the best version of ourselves?
Let's face it, says Massa, not only are we becoming more comfortable developing connections via techno-romance, but this form of reaching out has become a necessity. Social media and online dating users have adapted to a fast paced, fragmented life dominated by long working hours, travel, commuting and fractured families. This is described by sociologist Zygmunt Bauman as a 'Liquid' or precarious life. It is a life lived under conditions of constant uncertainty.
Bauman prefaces his book 'Liquid Life' with the words of Emerson: 'In skating over thin ice, our safety is in our speed'. As we negotiate the pitfalls of contemporary life, safety or security can be found in our connections - digital or otherwise. Social media's rapid rise indicates the desire of individuals to connect with each other, to build relationships – even if these might be fleeting for the mean time the provide some sense of security.
The remedy is for some, part of the problem. Author Stephen Marche warns that with less and less 'actual society' available to us in an age of liquidity, online connections perpetuate the problem. 'We live in an accelerating contradiction: the more connected we become, the lonelier we are'.
Is it really the case that the more we connect online, the less relevant offline socialisation becomes? Do we seek out partners online to our own detriment? Or are we witnessing the rise of a new form of 'techno-romanticism': the rejuvenation of human relationships through engagement with technology? What we do know is that with the challenges contemporary life throws up, technology has provided us with new opportunities to meet the right people. And, of course, plenty of the wrong ones too.