Can love survive the onslaught of technology?

By Arnab Mukherjee | Published on 14 Feb 2017
Can love survive the onslaught of technology?

Flirting, courting, romance, breakups – it has all been invaded by technology. Has technology forever altered what it means to love someone?

In the city of Lucknow, in the year 2009, the number of divorces filed for by young couples under one year of marriage was 300. Within 5 years this number has shot up to 900 – thrice the original. In Mumbai, the number had doubled. According to separate Nielsen and IDC surveys, smartphone shipments in India had grown from 2.5 million to 22 million in the same time period. Could there be a relation between that data? Is there a cause and effect relation? Has technology become the third wheel?

The attention span of... Hey... can you put down that phone and just read an article in peace for once? As we were saying... the human attention span is now shorter than that of a goldfish!

So how has this affected love? For starters, we most certainly do everything online now – especially socialising. And thanks to social media we can project an image of ourselves that can be as (un)true as we want. Why else would there be 83 million fake profiles on Facebook (according to a CNN report)? On the other hand, when you do want to know more about someone, you immediately cyber stalk them and get to know more about them than their own parents know, and in under an hour. But do you really know them?

Dating vs Data

It all begins with first finding love. This is where social media and dating apps and services come in. However, this availability of countless (potential) options has made us fickle. We look for minute flaws and blow them out of proportion, all the while ignoring our own generous flaws. Hair too curly... swipe left. Hair too straight...swipe left. No hair? Wtf. Swipe left! We’re like people at a super sized buffet unable to pick one food to sample. 

It’s not just people you don’t know, it’s even prevalent in couples. Once the newness factor wears off, it’s easy to get bored and give up, and there seem to be a plethora of choices waiting. In some Indian cities, divorce rates have risen by as much as 350% in the last 10 years or so, according to an HT survey. The grass used to always look greener on the other side, but now we’re willing to sacrifice it all to get a taste! 

Being on dating platforms is almost a social necessity now, rather than a personal choice – at least in geek circles. People boast about their success on Tinder, for example. According to numbers released by Tinder themselves, from 2015 saw a 400% growth over 2014 in terms of the number of women users on the app in India. A lot of this is attributed to peer pressure. It’s almost criminal to not be on social media, or else you get labelled a weirdo! Doesn’t matter if you live a fulfilling and busy life, if it’s not being displayed on social media, it’s not being lived. 

The largest section of Tinder users comes from the 25-34 age group

Another interesting development about the use of dating apps is the data from an American Sociology Review paper suggests that while the overall partnership rates of heterosexual couples have stayed the same, the partnership rate for same-sex couples has skyrocketed. Apps give them opportunities to connect that they didn’t have before.

Silent love stories

Let’s leave the apps and sites behind for a bit. A more intrinsic change has been in our nature and habits due to technology. For example, texting is now a much more socially acceptable way of communicating over calling. According to a Text Request survey in June 2014, we send at least 561 billion text messages every month – that’s roughly 200,000 text messages every second. Viewed in terms of couples courting, why not? Would you prefer to be put on the spot and have to answer questions about yourself, or would you rather have the time to formulate a decent answer? Modern couples can sometimes go days without talking to each other properly while being actively loquacious over WhatsApp. And is that necessarily bad? So long as you get the point across and have a conversation, does it matter if it’s not in person, or using your voice? Plus, there are no awkward silences, no making up stuff to talk about when you run out of things to say, texting just pauses when one or both parties get busy, and that’s the norm. Millennials would prefer this any day over having to deal with the nuances of emotion. Though it’s not like millennials, the generation most into texting is falling behind in expressing affection.

For all you know, they could be lovers!

“With technology, PDA seems to have become quite common”, says Divya Srivastava, consulting psychologist from Mumbai, “While many people cringe at extreme public displays of affection when it happens in front of them, the same thing when they see in the form of photos or videos on Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram, they go ‘aww’. In general, I think the millennials are more okay with displaying love than the previous generations”

Although, it is very common to see texting being used as an escape mechanism in modern relationships. Breaking up over texts is a major, and quite serious, problem that today’s couples, or rather, partners have to face. As Divya puts it, “I have clients who mention they never got closure because partners ended things over a text message, not wanting to meet or receive calls and then they are blocked from social media etc., and have no access and there are no further explanations given”. She also adds “In some ways, technology has made people slightly irresponsible because unpleasant confrontations, no matter how uneasy, sometimes still need to be made at times....avoidance behaviours are easier now thanks to technology.”

Connected couples

Technology has been a boon to long-distance relationships. In fact, we could go as far as saying modern day long distance relationships exist because of technology. With high-quality video calls and VoIP calls becoming something we take for granted – you’re always connected to your significant other. “Smartphones and tech changed our lives of course. Being in a long distance relationship for the last four years, I couldn’t be more thankful”, says Sociology student Sharanya Mukhopadhyay, “Honestly, the world has become smaller. Video calling and WhatsApp specifically has improved relationships. The feeling of togetherness even when you’re not together is what tech has done.”

It’s all about where you draw the line. There is a reason that things like WhatsApp’s blue ticks are made fun of when it comes to couples – because, behind that humour, they actually do affect a relationship. With people having the ability to constantly keep track and stay in touch with their partner, personal space in a relationship has reduced over time in many cases. “One of the things about tech is the obligations”, says Sharanya, “Your last seen was two minutes ago and you didn’t reply yet? The desire to communicate has been replaced by the obligation to communicate”. 

Connectivity can lead to unhealthy levels of obsession

Is this healthy? In no possible way. A constantly connected relationship leaves no time or space for an individual to realise their own potential or simply pursue their interests. “When it comes to serious relationships,” says Divya, “sometimes it reaches an unhealthy level in the form of cyberstalking. Somewhere, the constant pinging and trying to reach does cut you off from your other activities. In fact, this is no different than the unhealthy way in which technology has connected you to work.” 

Paradoxically, the same tech that creates this concern also makes us more lazy and forgetful. We don’t need to take the effort to remember anniversaries thanks to reminders and calendars, but we still have to order our own gifts. Ordering something off Amazon on same-day delivery might do the trick but it just isn’t the same as making a handmade card over weeks, or is it? Many would say that tech is the reason behind the fast pace of today’s world, and in this very world, if the tech is the enabler that helps you deal with that pace – it is more an evolution of society than a side effect. And if you blame tech for the high standards the internet sets for your romance – don’t forget it the next time you upload a picture with your SO on Instagram and it gets hundreds of likes.

The fidelity question

It is one thing to leave one person for another. But today, a large population has come to prefer straddling the line in between the two (no pun intended). Cheating on a partner today, with the help of technology, is too easy. Taking the fake personality that you create on a social network, you can go ahead and create an entirely new identity if needed. The thrill of anonymity is a strong pull for many acts of infidelity that wouldn’t exist beyond the mind otherwise.

A site with dedicated features to facilitate adultery

In fact, cases of people being duped for money or sexual harassment by fake profiles on social networks have been in the news for quite a while now. “I have been taking to this client who I counsel”, says Joshua C.D, a Bangalore-based writer and wildlife photographer, “She met a guy online trusted him and then sent him ‘nudes’ and money in the name of love through online (platforms). All he did was take and sell it on online porn sites and block her from reaching him. She had no sign of contacting or reporting him because in the world of the internet you can disappear more quickly than you appear”.

Even if you’re not going to the extent of creating a fake profile, you aren’t really out of the scope of cheating. Take Facebook’s privacy settings, for example, that let you manage who sees what at various levels of acquaintance – so one person could have a completely different view of your online life than another. Rather convenient, isn’t it?

Is technology influencing the tendency to cheat? A survey conducted by in 2013 had revealed that about 56% of social media users suffered from the fear of missing out (FOMO). The constant FOMO that we face, due to the state of technology right now that demands constant connectivity, does flow over to our relationships as well. We never really commit entirely for the fear of missing out on a perfect someone outside the existing relation. 

Breaking love

Sex is an important aspect of any adult romantic relationship, and it’s changed drastically as well. The boxes littered across the cover story will have given you a somewhat kinky insight into the way technology is invading even our most private moments – for better or worse. For over a decade now, the internet has been the primary source of sexual information for most of us. However, this is concerning because instead of remaining the source, it has become the authority on sex. Pornography creates hugely unrealistic expectations from sex. That’s not all, though, because in many cases pornography (and technology) is slowly replacing intimacy. 

“Instant gratification is the need of the hour, ” says Divya, “And pursuing sex with a partner involves a lot more steps than, say, watching pornography. Hence there are increasing cases where in a relationship, the act of watching pornography by either partner, even if it doesn’t affect the intensity or frequency of physical intimacy in the relation, does cause a falling out between them.” 

It appears that technology is fast becoming the shortest-path-to-result approach for even sex!

While there are some thoughtful features on social networks now, in general, it does encourage an escapist tendency

Another aspect that technology has made a lot harder is the breakup. Because there are photos all over social media, and not just on your accounts, but also those uploaded by common friends and even acquaintances. Used to be a time you could break up over coffee, then go through your solitary healing phase, relive the memories one last time by looking at photos and then burn them and the letters s/he sent, and then be done with it. Now you’re likely going to have to answer the same question a hundred times on WhatsApp, “What happened?!?!?” Well meaning friends will bombard you individually, because it’s not like people have the time to meet as a group anymore, and a few insensitive ones will ask right there on Facebook, in front of the *gasp* world! Add to this the fact that pretty soon you’re going to see pictures of your ex with their new partner, posted on friend’s walls, or being liked by a friend, etc., and there just isn’t a final closure anymore. It’s like a wound that you keep picking at, especially if you are the one who got dumped! 

Tech saves the day

Technology isn’t good or bad, it’s just a neutral force to be used as we see fit. This means that what tech screws up, it can also fix if only we would let it. Divya believes that taking time off tech can help. “These days phones come with quiet mode, which automatically stops unnecessary notifications from coming your way and you can use that feature to ensure you spend quality time with your partner or family. Also, even if tech affects the quality of relationships; as in, you may have a lot of people on your friends list, but only two close friends in real life, you can use the same technology to build a better relationship with them.”

In many ways technology has brought us closer in unprecedented ways

Technology use usually just reflects real life. Privacy settings let you mimic real life social circles, messaging apps are increasingly including richer content that people are using (almost 200 million voice messages are sent on WhatsApp daily, and that number is increasing). Technology now lets you send a video where before you could only send a letter – it’s really up to you how you put it to work for you. 

Happy ending?

Technology isn’t the bad guy in all this. We just need to take a good long look at what we’re doing and how we’re using the technology (and in some cases how we’re misusing or overusing technology). If done right, tech can be the perfect wingman in your quest for love. Love.exe may have crashed, but the problem exists between keyboard and computer (PEBKAC). It’s time to do a clean install of Life 10 and boot into an all new you and get Life.exe running smoothly again. All it takes is for you to turn off your phone for a few hours a day and reclaim your life!

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