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This is what your phone’s doing to your love life

To swipe left or to swipe right? That is the question. But give Tinder a rest for a moment and consider how technology has changed the way we fall in love. Deakin University anthropologist Roland Kapferer says that in one generation, phones and apps have spawned a whole new way of dating and mating. We’re witnessing a complete anthropological shift in the way we search for soulmates. Kapferer shares 9 ways smartphones are changing our love lives:

1. We have less empathy for others
Using Facebook and other social media apps has changed the way we relate and engage. Not having eye-to-eye contact with a person can decrease our empathy for them. In fact, a US study of 14,000 university students showed that people’s empathy declined by 40 per cent between 2000 and 2010.

2. Text messages build connections
Texting is a great for the development of relationships. If you meet someone online and text before meeting, that’s an important stage in the relationship-building process. Because text messages are easy to send and less intimidating than making a phone call, they have expanded communication possibilities.

3. We’re treating dating like a game
In a recent episode of The Bachelorette, Sam and her suitors played roulette – an apt reflection of the online dating ‘game’. In OKCupid, Tinder and other apps people become just one of many options to spin through on a screen. You take a gamble by ‘liking’ someone’s profile. There are even programs out there to help you ‘like’ thousands of people at once, increasing the odds of a match.

4. No one risks rejection anymore
Apps like happn protect you from initial rejection. If you see someone and like them, you can find out if they’re single and interested before you commit yourself to potential embarrassment. We’re relying on technology as a buffer and using it to make decisions. As a result, some people may never take the risks needed to find a partner.

5. We’re overwhelmed with choice
Dating apps like Plenty of Fish can have a big impact on the way people treat their current partners. If your partner doesn’t live up to expectations, an app like this can show you just how many potential people are out there. If you start thinking like that, you might unconsciously stop giving yourself to your boyfriend or girlfriend.

'We’re relying on technology as a buffer and using it to make decisions. As a result, some people may never take the risks needed to find a partner.'

Roland Kapferer,
Anthropologist, Deakin University

6. We’re empowered by explicit content
Sexting is incredibly popular today – one in three people have explicit content on their phones at any one time. While some people report feeling empowered by sexting, there are also many reasons to be cautious. You can’t always control where these images end up.

7. Technology helps shy people flirt
Phones are great flirtation devices and interacting on social media is often risk-free. You can like someone’s Instagram photo and act like it’s no big deal, but there’s often so much meaning that goes beneath the interface. The littlest things can mean a lot when you’re dating. But apps can’t replace the power of physicality – real life flirting to gauge interest is important.

8. Social media fuels pointless jealousy
Facebook can encourage jealously and miscommunication. If you have a problem in your relationship, being able to see your partner online and read their interactions might elevate the issue. When you can monitor someone else’s activity online, you get an impression of them but never the full picture.

9. Technology removes distance
If you’re in a long-distance relationship with someone, video communication can help develop a closeness that’s been impossible before. Couples can use apps like Skype for meaningful interactions that enhance their relationships.

Find out more about studying Anthropology at Deakin University, or read more this. content, like how to keep your smartphone safe or defining romantic love

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Roland Kapferer
Roland Kapferer

Lecturer in Anthropology, School of Humanities and Social Sciences, Deakin University
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