Posts Tagged online dating

Why a Nietzschean superman values humanity more than humans

Doctor ManhattanIt’s not often that a superior being reminds you about why it’s great to be human. As we wade through our daily lives, we tend to notice the negatives: confusion, irrationality, uncontrolled emotion, physical frailty, the list goes on.

That uniquely human trait known as “consciousness” might seem to override these foibles, but the rise of big data is making it seem like what Watchmen’s Dr. Manhattan would call a “highly overrated phenomenon.” Luckily, the Doctor is in.

In Watchmen Manhattan, a super being with God-like control of matter, along with the ability to teleport, fly, and grow into a giant, hides out on Mars after being accused of giving his colleagues cancer. He teleports his former girlfriend, Laurie Jupiter, herself a superhero called the Silk Spector, to Mars to convince him to save humanity. In the end, he convinces himself.

Manhattan sees things on a big scale (he finds erosion entertaining), so he’s more aware than most people of the unlikelihood of a specific human individual coming into existence.

“To distill so specific a form from that chaos of improbability, like turning air into gold… That is the crowning unlikelihood. The thermodynamic miracle,” Manhattan says. It’s particularly true of Laurie, whose mother had sex with her (absent) father even after he tried to rape her.

The whole speech is very dramatic, and definitely worth a read, but what does this have to do with data?

Sometimes I wonder if people think they can override human uniqueness with data, that if they acquire a large enough sample size, they can accurately predict human behavior.

I made the mistake of going to a psychology lecture in college. The visiting professor, apparently a well-regarded expert in the field, said his experiments had determined the level of autonomy an individual exhibits in a given situation.

I’m not a psychologist, but that seemed a bit odd. Doesn’t extrapolating what people do under controlled circumstances run counter to the nature of, well, autonomy?

Some might point to the wealth of data from uncontrolled circumstances that is available to researchers. Data: A Love Story is about how an Internet trend analyst constructed the ideal online dating profile by data-mining sites, and found herself a fiancee by systematizing her dating preferences.

Since I’m not very good at math, I guess that means I’ll never find true love online. Or maybe the future isn’t that dismal.

It’s true that Netflix can make good movie recommendations, but can an algorithm really account for the infinite number of variables contained within each individual consciousness?

By definition, data tells us what people have already done. As long as they keep doing the same thing (which, admittedly, they probably will) that’s fine. But what happens if someone changes their behavior? Or everyone?

Humans are subject to physical needs and social stimuli, but they are not programmed to act a certain way. As Dr. Manhattan points out, each person is one of a nearly infinite amount of possible combinations. It’s important to remember that.

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Getting meta over media criticism

In this age of irony and constant self-investigation, it’s easy to lose track of the reasons why people do things. That’s especially true when it comes to the media (I still don’t understand why we have 24-hour news networks). Still, we all know why reporters publish stories on things they observe, right?

As a member of the media (sort of) I guess I sometimes fall into the trap of assuming what readers will think of an article. That’s why I was surprised by some of the reactions to a recent piece on dating in the New York Times magazine.

“The End of Courtship?” was controversial to begin with. It focuses on 20-somethings’ use of texting, social media, and online dating sites, saying that technology has ruined romance. The author claims that social media have taken the risk out of asking a person out, and prevent one-on-one dates from happening by making it too easy to bring friends along.

Having your entire generation described as gutless and emotionally stunted obviously stirs up some strong opinions. In a rebuttal on RoleReboot, Niki Fritz criticized the story’s assumption that women only want old fashioned dates where the man picks the wine and pays the bill. She said there is nothing wrong with having casual dates, group outings, or hookups as options.

I completely agree, but I didn’t expect Fritz to attack the article’s negative tone along with the specific points it made. I’m getting a little meta here, so bear with me.

“All these articles do is scare young women into thinking we are in some hopeless, relationship-less era devoid of love and romance,” Fritz said.

This sounded similar to a comment I saw on a friend’s Facebook page: “I’m just sick to my stomach of article like this complaining with no resolution in sight,” the disgruntled reader said.

They say no news is good news, and maybe that’s becoming too much for people to handle. I could be wrong, but I’ve always assumed that articles like the Times piece are written to identify negative trends so they can be corrected.

People should read articles like this, realize how lame their dating lives are and try to change. But I guess, in the real world, even the people that agree that text-based dating is a problem respond with a simple “I don’t want to hear this.”

There are a lot of unpleasant things in the world, and this isn’t even really one of them. Everyone deserves to be happy, but these 20-somethings are much closer to happy than most people in the world.

Arguing an article’s specific points is one thing, but criticizing it just because it is negative is completely different. Journalists need to report what they see, good and bad, and while they shouldn’t exaggerate or misinterpret the facts, they definitely have a license to be negative.

Much criticism of the media is warranted, but have we really been reduced to this? I hope the New York Times doesn’t pick up this story; too much criticism of criticism might break the universe.

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Living in the robot economy

Robotic Jimmy Fallon as published in Wired. Photo by Peter Yang.

Robotic Jimmy Fallon as published in Wired. Photo by Peter Yang.

Apparently, the robots are coming for our jobs. On the cover of the January 2013 issue of Wired is a story about how robots already have the capability to do human work. The robot takeover is even endorsed by Jimmy Fallon.

It’s easy to speculate about whether Wired’s Kevin Kelly is right or not, because none of this has actually happened yet. What’s really interesting to consider is what human life will be like when robots start doing all of the work.

A Life of Leisure

Let’s start out with a relatively positive side effect. If humans get pushed out of jobs that require a lot of manual labor they could, in theory, be moved up to supervisory or white collar-type jobs that require less actual work. The factory of the future could have robot workers and human managers.

That means more people will have more spare time, which could be wonderful for both individuals and society. After all, who doesn’t want more time to do something that isn’t their job. More people could become less specialized, because they would have the time to pursue hobbies and budding talents. They could get a chance to read Crime & Punishment, or to think of an excuse to not read Crime & Punishment.

People often say that they are too busy to follow important news stories or political issues closely, but with machine assistance, we could have a more educated body politic. The Internet has, if nothing else, made massive amounts of information available. Sorting through it takes time, though.

Pop Culture Meltdown

In the Wired article, Kelly suggests that most displaced workers will become entrepreneurs or artists, starting small companies making custom wares and turning the global economy into Kickstarter writ large.

If that does happen, popular culture may become obsolete. It’s already happening in a way: Nearly everyone in the United States knew “Gangnam Style” before most American record executives had even heard of Psy.

If popular culture is basically a conversation between produces and consumers of media, then a robot economy could give them a hi-def connection. People won’t need to rely on media giants for entertainment, because small organizations (or even individual artists) will be readily available to produce media that are fine-tuned to each person’s specific tastes.

Never having to listen to Brittany Spears again sounds like a good deal, but it could have a negative affect. Pop culture is a bonding mechanism for a large population; its lowest-common-denominator aesthetic reminds us that there are certain basic things that we all enjoy.

Without it, we run the risk of cultural echolalia. If we don’t need to acknowledge what we don’t like, it’s hard to get a read on what other people are thinking. It would also make it hard to discover something new, because we’d have to make a determined effort to leave our comfort zones.

Every Man (and Woman) an Island

If the implosion of pop culture means having less in common with the people around us, then having a robotic workforce also means having less people around us. If robots become store clerks or waiters or repair-bots (Kelly says robot therapists and teachers are even possible), we’ll be spending a lot less time around people.

Of course, that is already sort of happening in the form of social media. Most people have even given up on phone conversations and text instead. Even dating has fallen into the digital realm.

I’m very thankful for the communication social media allows, but I don’t think it can replace a physical meeting. It’s great to be able to talk to a friend in another state or another country instantly, but I can’t imagine pulling that trick off with someone I’ve never met.

The same goes for online dating. I’ve given two sites a try and, personally, I think the Internet takes all of the romance out of romance. I spend the time combing through profiles like I’m a Human Resources director; a very unfulfilling experience. I’m not alone either: in a recent “Room for Debate” piece in the New York Times, a group of experts concluded that online dating is no replacement for the real thing.

So how else will we meet people when most of our daily interactions are with robots?

Some might say that robots will just eliminate the tedious and annoying human interactions from our lives, but that’s a bit of a slippery slope. It’s impossible to eliminate everything unpleasant, irritating, or intimidating from human interactions, because we are who we are. We are as scary, annoying, and boring as we are loving, captivating, and interesting. Maybe that’s why the robots seem like such an attractive replacement.

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Demographics unfit for drop-down menus

One of the latest human activities to fall under the shadow of the digital age is romance. Dating sites are becoming popular, so much so that specialized sites have cropped up to cater to certain religious or ethnic groups. From J-Date to Christian Mingle, there’s a dating site for everyone. Or is there? Here are a few ideas for new sites that could cater to some potentially lucrative demographics:

Z-Date (for zombies)

Mort Mate (for morticians and other funeral professionals)

Mandal Date (for Mandalorians)

Pre-Date (for Predators)

Star Date (for the officers and enlisted personnel of Starfleet)

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