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Q+A with Digi: Match made in VR?

Digi x Stylist on how tech is shaping the future of dating


We spoke to Stylist about the relationship between dating and technology from vibechecking in the metaverse to ‘swiping fatigue’, and our predictions on where dating is headed:


Stylist: The core of the feature is about the future of dating – looking ahead and asking what weird and wonderful things are happening to re-engage tired daters. But as part of this exploration, I'd really like to address this "swiping fatigue" that is afflicting so many of us (including me). Would you be able to comment on how much this burnout is fuelling new developments in dating?

Digi: Difficult years of the pandemic have induced mass self-reflection, and subsequently self-empowerment, in which daters are coming into their own standards and true desires in the romantic realm of their lives. Emerging from a pandemic, these daters are instead met with inaccurate dating app algorithms that seem to completely miss the mark on matches, or bias from other daters that exclude women, people of colour, and transgendered users. The alarming rise of so-called dating coaching and podcasts on social media (primarily by men who have sadly been allowed access to a microphone) and the likes of Andrew T*te reveal the plague of misogynistic and violent narratives around relationships that have also permeated the dating app world. To mitigate all these issues, a myriad of guidance and processes have emerged: from TikTok creators creating guidelines on hacking the Hinge algorithm to reach ‘good’ matches and texting templates to follow to set your boundaries, to must-ask questions to ask a date to suss out red flags (“What’s your most controversial opinion?”) or model prompt answers that will help users set expectations for dates. The swipe culture is no longer fun and adventurous , but laborious and disappointing – it is no wonder daters are burnt out.  

Stylist: You mentioned insights you gleaned from a recent project – could you expand on what you learned?

Digi: From situationships to platonic partners, dating is being redefined, but people are still looking for real connection no matter where they place themselves on this dating spectrum. At the same time, online daters have become more aware of the effects dating apps have on everything from mental health to self image and identity, and have adjusted their dating behaviours accordingly. 

Stylist: What predictions can you make – where are we headed? Any innovations I might not have read about yet?

Digi: Dating is such a personal and intimate thing and there is no algorithm that can truly predict a person’s desires and needs. There is an emergence of niche-driven dating as seen in the launch of apps such as Fitafy (for fitness fiends) and Pom (for music lovers), in response to the equally nichified interests and hobbies that today’s consumers gravitate towards. In between voice-note prompts and hi-tech VR dating is also a white space for multimedia, multi-sensorial exploration that emerging apps are tapping into. Short-form video formats and interactive features beyond static photo-swiping will resonate with younger generations’ attention deficit, and surprise older daters of the Instagram era.   

Stylist: How has COVID impacted things – especially our behaviours?

Digi: Post-pandemic, mental health has become a big part of the dating agenda. People have become aware of the effects of digital interactions through dating apps, and how these might negatively impact mental health. Tinder recently saw a 19% rise in bio mentions of ‘boundaries’ and a 31% rise for ‘anxiety’, while Pinterest saw ‘setting healthy boundaries’ searches up 170% in 2021 – overall, COVID has led us to de–compartmentalise the relationship dating apps has to the rest of our lives.

Stylist: With more and more integration between technology and dating, is the future purely online – or even AI? I've noticed that increasing numbers are deleting their apps and joining offline groups who are encouraging IRL hang outs and events. Is this nostalgia for the past – or is it a sign of what's to come?

Digi: Online dating has yet to find a way to replicate the feeling of meeting someone in person, and many online daters feel that an IRL ‘vibe check’ is essential and irreplaceable in establishing chemistry and connection. VR and the metaverse are a way for dating apps to provide more immersive, ‘humanised’ experiences that come closer to the multisensory experience of meeting someone in person, but so far most feel there’s no long term substitute for that IRL spark. 

Stylist: The piece will almost certainly begin with VR dating. Again, is this a flash in the pan – or do you think it's got legs? What's the appeal – and what does it offer that IRL dating doesn't?

Digi: I can see VR dating arousing interest amongst younger generations like Gen Z, especially with their penchant for the new and niche. Their hyper-digital literacy has further built their curiosity and agility towards adopting new technologies – it would be no surprise that they incorporate VR dating into their rolodex of digital habits. The allure of VR dating also tightly echoes the virtues of digital landscapes that younger generations know and love: immersiveness, self-expression, adventure, connection – elements that pull users away from ordinary life and allow them to fantasise versions of themselves and potential romantic partners. The VR model could also ease those with post-pandemic social anxiety back into socialising without IRL pressures.

However, VR dating – as with many hyped up tech trends – will come and go.  As mentioned earlier, the metaverse is still in its infancy despite companies hopping on the bandwagon (see also: metaverse marriages), with issues such as virtual avatar harassment and online bullying quickly emerging in such a new and unregulated space. It is likely that these issues would also become the misgivings of VR dating and brands offering this model must be vigilant in considering these dating dangers that could be potentially amplified in uncharted territories. Ultimately, the freshness and hype around VR dating will be trumped by a stronger desire for sensorial stimulation IRL for touch-starved – and spark-starved – daters.

Stylist: And lastly, what's the future for the more "traditional" apps such as Hinge and Tinder? Will they be forced to radically alter what they're doing and how they're doing it?

Digi: The future landscape of dating will be focused around values of wellbeing, inclusivity, representation, safety and interactivity. Not only do traditional dating apps have to constantly amplify and refine their safety and inclusivity initiatives in response to wider cultural narratives around gender and inequality, they also need to shift their focus away from algorithmic accuracy. Instead of trying to get matches ‘right’, these apps should explore how to make matching fun. From zhushing up their interactivity with multi-sensorial elements like sound, video (maybe even smell?) to considering more personalisable in-app features (GIFs? Stickers? Filters?), these apps need to understand that dating is no longer a binary and more than swiping left or right – and that daters are fluid and experimental in both IRL and URL. 

Read full article by Kat Lister here.

✨ Contributing Fairies

  • Biz Sherbert, Culture Editor 
  • Rachel Lee, Insights & Cultural Analyst

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