In his new book, Love in the Time of Algorithms: What Technology Does to Meeting and Mating, writer Dan Slater argues that online dating has changed society profoundly. Slater, 35, a Brooklyn, N.Y., newlywed, tells USA TODAY's Sharon Jayson just how and why.
Q: What is it about online dating today that you believe has made such a big difference?
A: It's the vast expansion of the dating pool. Everyone has access to so many more people than they were accustomed to in the past. I started to wonder how that might affect how people approach their relationship lives. Many of my friends are married to people they met online. Many have been using online dating a long, long time and have yet to settle down. The main thing was the ubiquity of it and how it suddenly expanded the mating pool.
Q: You suggest that online dating has made relationships more disposable. Why?
A: An element of commitment is based on the availability of alternatives. Online dating made a lot more people feel they are part of a larger mating pool than they were used to. What I found when I interviewed a lot of daters (more than 100, plus 50 industry executives) is that people tended to be moving from one relationship to the next a lot faster than they seemed to before online dating existed. That was based on my interviews with online daters and the opinions of about 90% of the industry executives I interviewed. It was a combination of the anecdotal and statistical.
Q: How much science is really involved in matching people the way online dating does?
A: Science can examine a couple already together and throw them in a room and watch them interact and, based on observation of their interactions, can predict the likelihood of divorce or staying together. What has not been proven is the predictive power of two strangers. However, what online dating does seem to be improving at is the likelihood of two strangers getting along well on a first date. As far as the algorithms go and the compatibility and ability of algorithms to predict compatibility between two people, what my reporting and research showed was that psychological science has not provided the ability to predict long-term compatibility between a couple who have never met.
Q: Do you think this story needed to be told by someone of your generation?
A: Yes and no. Yes, perhaps in the sense that I was born in 1977, which was the generation of a lot of people now running these dating sites. The sites they built do reflect a generational sensibility about the way we think about the Internet and what the Internet is supposed to do. So, in that sense, it helped me as a journalist in writing the book to be in my 30s now. The eHarmony site was founded by a man now 78. Match.com was founded by someone now in his 40s. In general, people using it a lot tend to be my age.
Q: How does age affect the way people approach relationships?
A: I think age obviously has a huge influence on how people view relationships and what they want out of a relationship. One of the biggest demographics of online dating now is 50 and over. As a 30- or 31-year-old when I started to do online dating, I had had relationships but had not married and it was something I wanted to do. I haven't had children yet. This was all ahead of me. If I had been 20 years older, maybe I would have been married and already had a family and this is the second time around and I don't feel the same agenda.
Q: You say you tried online dating yourself. How did you meet your wife, Sophie?
A: I used a total of two sites through which I dated on and off about 12 months. I met someone through one of those sites with whom I had a year-long relationship. (Sophie and I) actually met in a yoga class in January 2009. ... I asked her out, but she had a boyfriend. We never went out. We went our separate ways for 2½ years. Then we reconnected on Facebook. Her face popped up as 'people you may know.' I friended her and we started chatting and she had since become single and we started to date. The funny thing is, if Sophie hadn't had her boyfriend, I probably would never have used online dating. But had I not used online dating, I wouldn't have written the book.