Love in the Time of Algorithms: How Online Dating has Changed Our Lives

In his eye-opening new book, Love in the Time of Algorithms, journalist Dan Slater takes an in-depth look at the online dating industry, its history and what this technology means for how people approach relationships.

I got the chance to have a quick chat with him about what he uncovered during the process of researching and writing the book, and learned that one of the reasons he ventured into the subject matter was that his own parents had met online in the earliest days of computer dating! He also had used online dating himself and had some success with it.

Q: How did your perceptions about online dating change during the experience of working on this book?

DS: I don’t think I fully appreciated at the onset how ubiquitous this technology was. When you first hear that a third of single people in the U.S. are online dating, you are surprised and impressed by that number. When I got out there and started interviewing dozens and dozens and dozens of online daters, I started seeing how pervasive it was in their lives — not only just as technology but in the brain space it was taking up. It was interesting to see how much technology played a role in so many different ways in American life.

Q: Where you ever personally influenced by the old stigma around online dating?

DS: When I went into it, I was still affected a little by the stigma of online dating, even though I had used it myself and had success with it. When I imagined the kinds of people I would be meeting for whatever reason, I imagined people who’d been unhappy in their relationship searches before, or people who had trouble with their social life before. I imagined meeting people who would have unrealistic expectations about what online dating could do for them. And when I got out there I did meet people that fell into those categories, but I also met people who fell into pretty much every category.

It led to the revelation that when you have a third of single people using this technology, you aren’t going to find one kind of person, you are going to find many different kinds of people from many different kinds of backgrounds, just as you would find if you just went out and interviewed people who are in relationships.

Q: How do you think online dating changed society?

DS: Overall it’s positive. On behalf of online dating, any technology that helps people not be alone is a wonderful thing. That is inarguable. Anyone who is helping people not be alone is doing something noble. I do believe when you expand the mating pool as online dating has done, and you cause such a radical departure from all the rest of human history — where finding someone was based so much more on scarcity — you do wind up with a couple of things. On the one hand with people being a little choosier, those who use the technology a lot have a higher bar for happiness. That means they are not going to settle as much in relationships, whereas in the past they may have because they didn’t perceive the alternatives to be so good. That’s a good thing in a way because it could theoretically lead to better relationships. The downside of that is it could also lead to more relationship breakups!

Q: If a friend told you they wanted to try online dating, what would you say?

DS: I would say approach it with gusto, and approach it with an open mind.  I would say don’t be discouraged by a bad experience, because there are going to be a few of them. One thing online dating does allow you to do is get in front of more people and have more interactions — in terms of getting out there, having first dates, sitting down and practicing how to interact with someone.  

Through that process you learn more about yourself, learn more about what you want and how you get along with people. That is fantastic and online dating allows a lot more opportunities to do that. As a result, you will have more bad experiences just by definition — but you will have more good experiences as well. For online daters to be successful, it’s important for them to be resilient.

I couldn’t agree more!

Learn more about Dan Slater’s book Love in the Time of Algorithms, available now.

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