Pros and cons of tech-based affairs of the heart.

Portrait of Tammy Strobel

Pros and cons of tech-based affairs of the heart.

“It is not true that people stop pursuing dreams because they grow old, they grow old because they stop pursuing dreams.” So said Colombian author Gabriel Garcia Marquez, best known for his engaging romantic novel, Love in the Time of Cholera.

Three decades on from its publication, the world’s undergone a technological revolution, and anyone in search of a dream romance soon finds that they are looking for love in the time of an epidemic called Pokemon.

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The human race has flipped from boy meets girl to boy tweets girl, and vice versa. The rabbit warren that is Tinder challenges straightforward human tenderness. Forget that moment of looking deeply into someone’s eyes – attention spans are hijacked by WhatsApp. It’s all too easy to ‘heart’ something on social media, but what about what used to be called Lonely Hearts? As Tina Turner warbled so plaintively (and memorably): What’s Love Got to Do with It?

Examples of the great millennial digital quandary are legion. Christine Retschlag set up a travel, dating and sex blog called The Global Goddess: A Single Woman’s Journey ( after she found herself suddenly single following a long-term relationship having relocated from Singapore to Brisbane, Australia.

“The perceived availability of people online sets up a kind of gambling mentality. It creates a  ‘dopamine response’” ~ Christine Retschlag

Having only ever dated the old-fashioned way – meeting someone in person and speaking to them face-to-face – she is often bemused, and sometimes disturbed, at the online dating culture.

“It took me a long time to embrace the concept of Internet dating because when it first came out, there was a huge taboo surrounding it,” says Retschlag.

“But over the years, Internet dating’s become mainstream and almost considered the norm in how we meet people. Many of us now live alone, possibly work for ourselves, and travel a lot, so traditional ways of meeting people are not so readily available.”

Retschlag found that the responses to her WLTM posts caused her to exclaim “WTF” more often than not.

“It’s been an eye-opener,” she says, with more than a hint of understatement.

“Unfortunately, and research supports this, the perceived availability of people online sets up a kind of gambling mentality. It creates a ‘dopamine response’ so you are always looking for the next best thing and are not content with the person in front of you. I can only speak from the point of view of a woman seeking a man for a relationship, but I find this particular ‘throwaway’ concept rife among men on these sites.

“The other issue is that while someone can ‘tick all the boxes’, the one thing online dating cannot replace is chemistry and I think that’s the most important thing of all that is overlooked in this digital process.”

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From being a fringe activity seen as the last recourse of the ill-fortuned and ill-favoured, online dating is moving closer to an accepted pattern of life. In wired societies, surveys indicate that around 15 percent of single adults regularly use online dating sites or mobile dating apps.

Having examined the phenomenon extensively, Aaron Smith and Monica Anderson at the Pew Research Centre, a non-partisan ‘fact tank’ based in Washington DC, reported that attitudes to online dating have grown more positive.

“When we first studied online dating habits in 2005, most respondents had little exposure to online dating or to the people who used it, and they tended to view it as a subpar way of meeting people,” says Smith, who is an associate director at Pew.

“Today, nearly half of the public knows someone who has met a spouse or partner via online dating – and attitudes toward online dating have grown progressively more positive.”

“Today, nearly half of the public knows someone who has met a spouse or partner through online dating” ~ Aaron Smith

The joint research also indicated that online dating has increased swiftly among under-25s as well as those in their late 50s and early 60s, which is a logical development given that many people close to retiring age may lack the social opportunities, or simply be too reticent, to hook up with a potential partner.

But significantly, roughly a third of online daters have never actually gone on a date with someone they met via the Internet.

“If you haven’t found quite what you’re looking for on an online dating site, you aren’t alone,” notes Anderson, who specialises in research on the Internet, science and technology.

Other findings included the information that a fifth of daters had asked someone else to help them with their profile, while five per cent of those surveyed who are either married or living together said they met their significant other thanks to the efforts of ‘e-Cupid’.

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Relationship counsellors, who occupy a strategic post on the front line of personal romantic dealings, have had to reassess their roles in the light of the tech revolution. Nicholas Harris, a personal therapist based in Chiang Mai, Thailand, who provides private counselling and therapy, as well as teaches a range of personal development workshops, has witnessed technology’s numerous detrimental effects in the course of his work.

“I believe that one of the defining qualities of a relationship is presence, and people’s addiction to this new technology makes it very hard for many couples to be present with each other – and therefore it has a negative effect on many human relationships,” he says.

“From people bringing iPads to bed – leading to a declining sexual contact between partners – to groups of friends sitting for dinner together speaking to everyone in the world apart from those actually on the table – the problems with technology and relationships are clear. Any powerful tool can be used for positive or negative purposes. From my clinical experience, I say that technology is weakening relationships.”

Harris maintains that the secret of success comes down to working out a sensible balance between the real world and the fleeting, alternative tech universe. “There is a time to be present with your partner rather than be continually distracted with other conversations happening in the background on screens,” says Harris, who runs the website

“There is a time to be  present with your partner rather to be continually distracted with other conversations” ~ Nicholas Harris

“Think about the difference between watching a movie with somebody who is 100 percent focused on it compared to watching with someone who is actually spending half of the time looking at another screen. Relationships are built on granting one another the gift of presence. While technology can be helpful in bringing those physically far apart closer, often it takes those physically close sadly emotionally far apart.”

There is, of course, space here for a Hollywood ending. Global Goddess Retschlag says she remains the ultimate optimist when it comes to finding love, and has more and more friends who have reported finding the love of their life on sites such as Tinder.

“One of my favourite stories is of a girlfriend who met a guy on Tinder and became pregnant,” she says. “Throughout the entire pregnancy, she kept offering him an ‘out-clause’ but instead, the pregnancy became their courtship period.

“They fell madly in love, their beautiful baby boy was born and, they got married. They call their boy their ‘Tinder Surprise’. There’s hope for us all.”