Dig­i­tal love

Look­ing for love? And, who knows, per­haps tech­nol­ogy can ac­tu­ally bring peo­ple to­gether

CityPress - - Voices -

Most par­ents to­day be­lieve that their chil­dren, es­pe­cially if they’re dig­i­tal na­tives, are los­ing hu­man con­nec­tiv­ity be­cause they’re per­ma­nently glued to their dig­i­tal devices. How­ever, there’s a coun­ter­ar­gu­ment of “dig­i­tal in­ti­macy” – the no­tion that tech­nol­ogy ac­tu­ally brings peo­ple closer to­gether.

This be­lief is es­pe­cially preva­lent in Gen­er­a­tion Z (the 17-and-younger gen­er­a­tion), which be­lieves that on­line re­la­tion­ships are just as im­por­tant as off­line friend­ships, and if you delve into the bot­tom­less pit that is your smart­phone’s app store, you’ll find many ways to con­nect, es­tab­lish and main­tain a re­la­tion­ship, dig­i­tally.

Take, for ex­am­ple, a wed­ding that was re­cently beamed live via the video app Periscope. This very pub­lic, so­cial-me­dia wed­ding was the cul­mi­na­tion of a re­la­tion­ship that be­gan on Twit­ter and got se­ri­ous on Skype. It’s a case study for the con­cept of dig­i­tal in­ti­macy.

The dat­ing apps mush­room­ing in your app store are be­com­ing more niche, so what­ever your cul­ture, re­li­gion or hobby, you’ll be able to find a soul­mate – or should that be an app-mate?

Th­ese dif­fer from brazen, in­stant hook-up apps like Tin­der and Grindr, and of­fer a more “old-school” match­mak­ing func­tion, adding a hi-tech spin for some very tra­di­tional cul­tural prac­tices, like the lobola cal­cu­la­tor app that was launched last year.

For ex­am­ple, Muz­match is a dat­ing app ex­clu­sively for sin­gle Mus­lims.

Once you’ve cre­ated a pro­file – de­scrib­ing your religious sen­si­bil­i­ties and de­tails like whether you have a beard or wear a veil – you are pre­sented with a se­ries of pos­si­ble matches for con­sid­er­a­tion. This is when the all-im­por­tant “wali” fea­ture kicks in (wali is an Ara­bic word mean­ing cus­to­dian or pro­tec­tor). This fea­ture al­lows prospec­tive love­birds to post mes­sages and pic­tures, which are then vet­ted by a pre­scribed guardian.

The app’s cre­ator, Shahzad Younas, a Bri­tish-Pak­istani en­tre­pre­neur, wants to help Mus­lims “choose their own ro­man­tic des­tiny with­out break­ing religious rules”.

Cou­ples in In­dia can now down­load apps like Shaadi or BharatMat­ri­mony, which give them more say and con­trol in the match­mak­ing process, sidestep­ping the tra­di­tional routes like fam­ily con­nec­tions, mar­riage bro­kers or news­pa­per ads.

In a sim­i­lar vein, a new breed of apps like Spritzr, Hitch and Spark­starter al­low friends to play dig­i­tal match­maker us­ing var­i­ous so­cial-me­dia plat­forms, re­duc­ing the awk­ward­ness of an old-school blind date.

But while th­ese match­mak­ing apps are rein­vent­ing tra­di­tion, a new wave of seem­ingly more pla­tonic apps are cater­ing to shared, and some­times very niche, in­ter­ests, like Sweatt, which is specif­i­cally for fit­ness fa­nat­ics, and Sizzl for ba­con lovers.

With Netflix just launched in South Africa, fel­low binge view­ers can find each other by down­load­ing the Tik­iTalk app, AKA the “Netflix and Chill” app.

Tik­iTalk searches by ac­tiv­ity, not peo­ple. For ex­am­ple, you can choose from group ac­tiv­i­ties like “get brunch” or “Netflix and chill”. The app then shows you other avail­able users in your area, and if you find com­mon ground, a chat win­dow pops up, al­low­ing you to plan a date. A heads up for par­ents, how­ever. “Netflix and chill” has evolved to be­come a teenager’s favourite eu­phemism for hav­ing sex: “He said he loves me, but I know he just wants to Netflix and chill.”

If your app does find you a soul­mate, tech­nol­ogy can also help you take the re­la­tion­ship to the next level, with­out ac­tual phys­i­cal con­tact (the sort of dig­i­tal in­ti­macy that par­ents will ap­prove of ).

Hap­tic tech­nol­ogy recre­ates the sense of touch by emit­ting vi­bra­tions. For ex­am­ple, you are able to send some­one a phys­i­cal sen­sa­tion re­motely and, in the case of Hap­tiHug, an ac­tual hug. The re­cip­i­ent, how­ever, needs to strap on a hap­tic vest to “feel” the hug, which is not very ro­man­tic, but they will at least re­ceive the hug.

Sim­i­larly, the Kis­sen­ger – short for “kiss mes­sen­ger” – is de­signed for cou­ples in long-dis­tance re­la­tion­ships to kiss via cy­berspace.

The Kis­sen­ger pro­vides a set of sil­i­cone lips for each party at their sep­a­rate lo­ca­tions. When both par­ties press their lips into the sil­i­cone, they will feel the hap­tic ef­fect of the kiss. Again, not very ro­man­tic, but des­per­ate times call for des­per­ate mea­sures.

Speak­ing of des­per­ate mea­sures, with the rise and evo­lu­tion of ro­bot­ics, fu­tur­ists now pre­dict that within the next two decades, we’ll prob­a­bly be hav­ing sex with ro­bots.

Hu­manoid ro­bots will not only be our do­mes­tic helpers and co-work­ers, but also a new kind of sex worker – “sexbots”. The first one – named Roxxxy – was launched in 2010 by a US com­pany called True Com­pan­ion.

“She” has syn­thetic skin and is pro­grammed with ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence to en­gage in a ba­sic con­ver­sa­tion. The com­pany also of­fers a male sexbot called Rocky, who is also pro­grammed to en­gage in pil­low talk.

Dig­i­tal in­ti­macy sud­denly seems so much more in­no­cent. Chang is the founder of Flux Trends. For more trends, visit flux­trends.com. Join him on Metro FM to­mor­row at 6.30am, when he

dis­cusses th­ese trends on the First Av­enue show

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