As both a Dating App Founder and Mental Health Practitioner, I feel a huge responsibility to do the right thing by others. The innate sense of a duty of care runs deep within my veins, as does my desire to create great change that leads to positive mental health outcomes.
What I mean by that, is that for a long time, dating apps have got a bad rap, in that many people simply feel that they are toxic - with the research clearly stating that social anxiety and depression is on the rise for those who use them.
Furthermore, 45% of users say the overriding emotion which is derived while using them is that of frustration. Sad really, isn't it?
So, we have a problem.
The problem is - in addition to the above - dating app usage is increasing. Dating apps will soon be the most prevalent way that people will meet, with over 323 million people worldwide using such platforms. The vast majority of matchmaking takes place via mobile devices.
Research conducted by dating platform eHarmony and the Imperial College Business School also pinpointed 2037 as the year when the majority of babies in the UK are born to parents who met via the internet. By 2035, it says the UK will reach the "tipping point" - with more than 50% of relationships beginning online.
Which is why, as a Dating App Founder the time to be socially responsible is now. Up until this point, dating apps have had very little ethical guidelines to speak of. Safety guidelines, yes - but when it comes to a duty of care and acting in a manner which aims to do no harm - contributing positively to society - this is an area I feel we fall short.
I'm therefore, calling upon all dating app CEOs, and Founders to pledge to do business with social responsibility, so that we can all be a force for good when it comes to helping not only the current generations, but also may more to come.
So, what do we need to be aware of?
Firstly, the rise of A.I. in dating. This idea scares the sh*t out of me, and in many ways, I am highly resistive to the development of A.I.'s involvement when it comes to relationships. Coupled with the rise in celibacy syndrome whereby people are already choosing to have A.I. relationships in countries such as Japan - this is a nightmare that has the potential to come true in the future.
And how might that look? Well, you probably won't have to come up with your own openers, nor have to suffer the discomfort of rejecting someone - and you'll probably not even have to write your own profile (a "Yippee!" from you all, I'm sure).
However, whilst humans have been shying away from rejecting others for as long as we've been alive (yep - ghosting is not something which we will retire anytime soon), having the skills to open a conversation is surely still a must? Plus, aren't we just de-skilling people? I mean, the less we do something, the less we feel confident - therefore, I sure to God hope that we don't end up being the most uninteresting species in the solar system! Worse still, technology will help you to flirt - I mean... Please.
I do have one good thing to say. A.I. will be useful in that it will help us to understand and interpret messages - so potentially helping us to find better matches. But if you are matching with a bot, I'm not sure who you are interpreting?(!)
Next, get ready for V.R. ('Virtual Romance').
Now this is not something I'm completely opposed to. Used correctly, at the right time, it could be useful. BUT it should never replace actual, real-life encounters. For me, I'm sorry - but I feel we will abuse its usefulness and we will be in serious danger of allowing V.R. to become the 'normal' way to have and carry out our relationships.
Firstly, let's address the positives. Well, a V.R. first date sounds like a good idea to me. An excellent feature which can save us all a lot of time, and money (dates are not cheap, after all). So, in the not-so-distant future, a first date might involve us putting on a headset and transporting ourselves into a 'Starbucks' whereby we both can meet virtually for the first time, yet we are both sitting in our own living room. This is a game changer in so many ways - including opening up the potential of meeting people who live on the other side of the world! Plus, I have seen some of the capability of the V.R. - it is truly astonishing. Maybe, we could all go back in time also with our date too!
However, I need to come back to how we as humans could potentially abuse such features - turning it from something which is healthy and helpful, to something which is toxic and unhelpful.
From a relationship and mental health perspective, we know that face-to-face meetings are critical for not only building both a physical and mental connection, it is an essential component when establishing, building, and committing to a long-term relationship.
Not only with regards to our decision making (our judgement and perception is filtered through all of our five senses) but also, we're simply not meant to be pen-pals and Zoom best buddies with our life partners. In fact, the idea is just ridiculous. BUT, it is already happening, with many people across the world choosing an A.I. bot - rather than a real person to have a relationship with.
'Hook-up Culture' is a phrase which is often spoken about in dating, yet I promise you there are not many people 'hooking up'. Instead, many people are using dating apps simply for a 'hit'. Validation, which can happen in a instance, massages our egos and boosts our self esteem, bringing about short term bouts in confidence - but the match itself is meaningless.
Nine times out of ten, both individuals are talking to multiple people, consuming both energy, time and attention. This amount of virtual attention often leaves us feeling like we no longer need to find the actual 'physical' time to go on a date. Ironically, we don't go out on dates anywhere near the same amount as we did decades ago.
We also create a fake intimacy, which can lure us into a false sense of connection which no one truly wants - a fake reality - so that you believe you like this person more than you think. Even if you have never met them before, this is often mistaken for 'feelings' or 'intimacy'. People have already begun to accept the bare minimum when it comes to connection, therefore missing out on a fundamental piece of the 'good stuff'.
So, can you see how both A.I. and V.R. could be abused by us? Of course, it would be so much easier to have an A.I. bot flirt with you when they know exactly how to push your buttons? Transporting you to the most amazing V.R. restaurant in the world (they'll probably have waitlists to keep you interested...) for a date, whilst you sit in your PJs on your sofa definitely sounds appealing too, let's face it!
So, why am I telling you all this?
Well, firstly - what are we doing about it? (Shameless plug coming)....At a basic level, REDDI exists to make sure that we not only protect our current generations, but the future generations to come. Not only do we aim to protect you from dating and living solely in the Metaverse. But we also aim to protect you from becoming depressed, lonely, and isolated.
Secondly, I need you to be mindful. I need you to be self-aware about what is coming, and what we can do about it.
Research, is already telling us that people are having less sex than ever before, and due to the dopamine dependent society we now find ourselves living in, we are already experiencing a tidal wave mental ill health. Celibacy syndrome is real - and it is coming.
Even if we forgo the the reproduction element, human sexual activity affects our health, happiness, cognitive function, and overall quality of life. That is why researchers have become so alarmed by the decline in sexual activity (all sexual activity including solo masturbation) around the world from Japan, to Europe, to Australia, and the US. These finding are not trivial either with a rise from 28.8% to 44.2% in young men, and a rise from 49% to 74% amongst young woman with more people reporting that they are asexual.
Mental ill health is of course one of the greatest challenges of the 21st Century. Isolation and depression is increasing and people are clearly disconnecting.
None of the above sound like great legacies to pass on, I must say.
Now, I don't want you to get me wrong. If a relationship isn't for you, and you don't ever want children that's cool. BUT this way of living will significantly affect you too. If we continue to approach our relationships and interaction mindlessly, we will become victims of our own destiny, I'm sure. We won't have the choice anymore, and our brains will simply shut down.
Imagine a world in which real relationships are non-existent. Well, they do exist - but physically we no longer connect, and you are mentally connecting with the A.I. as that I have described above.
Don't think this isn't coming.... because it is if we don't do something about it.
When I founded REDDI, I decided that I wasn't going to let this happen. "Not on my watch", I would say. As a socially responsible app dedicated to helping people find sustainable, real-life healthy partnerships, it is my duty to also ask that other dating apps help to change such bleak outcomes.
It is our responsibility, as the orchestrators of the future with regards to how we meet, date, and family - and to do so with a duty of care.
No other purpose is clearer to me, BUT it is up to us humans, we the people, to act now. As a dating app, we cannot dance alone. We need to place our personal relationships as a high priority in our lives - both from a personal and work perspective. Investing in such, will mean that we won't experience a loss of relationships when people inevitably move to spend more time in the Metaverse.
Until next time,
Stacy | Founder of REDDI