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In many ways, it ‘fits’ with our evolutionary nature, which is used to living in a small tribe of 100-300 people.Facebook gives us an online version of this tribe, but it rationalizes it, streamlines it, makes it more efficient.It draws on the basic human desire to share information with the tribe, through fireside gossip, songs, music – but it allows the tribe to stretch across space, so that friends who live abroad are still connected to the tribe.
It was like an advent calendar, where you keep opening the little windows, without ever quite getting to Christmas.
And being on the site started to change how I behaved. It broke the old ways of going on dates, made it more efficient, more rational, but also, perhaps, less civilized, more brutal. And this rather brutal directness starts to seep out beyond the confines of online dating, into your offline interactions. The technology may be cool and efficient, but you’re still dealing with the slow messiness of the human heart.
And it also disrupts and transforms tribal patterns. Would the members of the tribe take care of us when we fall sick? Like Facebook, users of Soulmates have a profile page, which is their persona, their advertisment, their shop front, where they tell the market why they should go on a date with them: ‘I’m cheeky’, ‘I’m a great cook’, ‘I love to travel’, ‘I study at the LSE’, ‘I’m a successful lawyer’ – it’s funny what people think are their chief selling points.
Where before, our tribal self-presentation (and therefore our status) would have been relatively fixed, in the online tribe, the way we present ourselves is infinitely malleable. It’s a fluid, non-hierarchical tribe, where everyone can present themselves as the Big Chief. Everyone has friends who tend to spill their emotional problems onto their status update…is it appropriate? As of last month, I signed up to another disruptive technology: online dating. You also write what you want in return – women always seem to want someone to curl up with next to a fire…once again, the old tribal patterns emerge. One person recorded a voice message in which they spent five minutes simply listing their favourite rock bands in a monotone.
The slightly dark side to this manipulation was that I got lots of emails from some of the people I’d added as favourites, excited that I appeared to like them, and interpreting it as significant.