There seem to be two dominant strains of thought concerning the phenomenon of Internet dating. One holds that it is dangerous, a last resort for losers, a prey-ground for sexual deviates and a sign of the “End of the Times”.
The second holds that it is an integral part of our Orwellian present, a realistic solution to a perennial problem and a cutting edge tool for cutting a fast track through outdated and time wasting forests in order to get to the most desirable tree on our horizon.
I have listened to exponents of both sides, and have both agreed and disagreed with varying aspects of each. It’s not a question upon which I have spent a lot of time pondering until recently but, now that I have, a third option presents itself to me.
Perhaps Internet dating is a response to an entirely separate problem in our society: the imminent atrophying of our imaginations.
From Neolithic times onwards we have ample evidence that the human mind was capable of abstract thought - from animistic scratches on cave walls to inscriptions on tablets, and through memorised ballads. The Renaissance was not just a flowering of humanity’s intellect but a soaring of the imagination once let loose from ecclesiastic confines. The birth of the novel has now proved to be even earlier than was once thought: Aphra Behn’sOroonoko provided the genesis for an entirely new path down which our imaginations could wander.
For the next few centuries we spun tales, painted pictures, read blood-chilling books, absorbed poetry and lay on our backs and saw pictures in the clouds.
Come the late 20th century, however, and we turned to technology. Those gifted with the capacity to compute logical results from the interaction of wires and circuits and power input, began to present for us imaginative pre-packaged resources in desktop boxes, or finger-tapping machines. Our minds, that no longer needed to search for the answer as to what change we should give or receive when making financial transactions, no longer needed to grapple with how to entertain ourselves either. The variety of boxes and devices provided for this purpose were legion.
Which was just as well. In order to take advantage of all this pre-packed leisure time we had to rise earlier, work harder, stay at work later, and travel for longer; trapped in other boxes. And because the human mind was seen to degenerate into primeval road rage when condensed into traffic jams, crowded roads and snarling humanity we were able supply these boxes with other devices churning out an endless diet of chatter in order to keep us from each other’s throats.
The dedicated could also choose to transport our work with us on mobile phones or palm pads to ensure we could afford bigger, better swallowers of our leisure time.
By the dawn of the 21st century the result of our intimate familiarity with technology was that we became very, very sophisticated as well as very, very busy. Our brains were too fatigued with the realities of life to spend time curled up reading and pondering whodunit, or why.
Documentaries and travel programs which once fascinated us on our boxes and caused us to dream of exotic and faraway places were simply far too removed from the reality of our lives - how could the Khalahari bushmen or the dolphins of Crete help us with a crashed computer?
Magazines which we once flipped through lazily to get to the short stories or poetry were now feverishly scanned for hints and tips on how to dress for success or gain the instant orgasm.