Welcome to the bloggy home of Noah Brier. I'm the co-founder of Percolate and general internet tinkerer. This site is about media, culture, technology, and randomness. It's been around since 2004 (I'm pretty sure). Feel free to get in touch. Get in touch.

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Fear of Efficiency

I’ve been wondering for a while when it became socially acceptable to meet people from the online world in meat space. Way beyond the small likemind and coffee morning gatherings are 40 million Americans engaging in online dating. Ten years ago if I told someone I was going to meet an online friend they’d have thought I was nuts, now they only thing I’m a bit mad. That’s progress folks.

But why? What’s caused this change?

I’m going to use some of the comments from the last post to guide the discussion (and highlight again how much I appreciate the brilliant comments). This is an experiment in post writing, so please bear with me.

. . . the way that we interact with each other – both with our friends and with strangers – is completely changing. There are hardly any lines anymore between what’s virtual and what’s real, what’s digital and what’s physical. (Orli)

Our points of access into the online world are expanding. We are becoming more comfortable with the communication that happens there and better able to judge the authenticity of the voice we are reading/hearing. (On a side note, I can’t help but wonder if it’s just a coincidence that the upswing in my social contact as a result of this blog is directly related to me adding my photo to the homepage.)

But there’s another side:

. . . it seems every day the internet is finding new ways to distance people – noah’s likemind group not withstanding. It’s making people lazy – physically, emotionally, mentally. (Jeff)

A common concern, but as an avid user of social media, Chet responded:

I don’t see distancing and lazyness. Personally, MySpace has expanded the surface area of my social life immensely, in a way that has helped me become friends, and see in person, way more people than before (and more interesting people, usually). For example, I just moved to new york, and I instantly had quite a few friends – because of a few connections that were strengthened through the site. This was entirely enabled by MySpace (and as it happens, the job i got here was enabled by blogging). I am also able to stay in contact with my friends in Toronto to a much greater degree. Hell, before I moved, I sent out a bulletin about selling all my stuff, and the next day, all my friends came over to my house (they had seen the photos on Flickr, too). It was a great time. I think that’s efficient, not lazy. (Chet Gulland)

And here we come to one of the great dilemmas of social media and the internet: How much efficiency is good? Take online dating, for instance. It’s hard not to feel like a bit of serendipity has left the world of dating when you choose someone via profile. The thing is, how often do people actually meet at a bar for the first time? Meeting people is a difficult task and I would guess the majority of relationships are set up in one way or another. So how different is online dating?

A lot of the fear of the internet comes with the idea that when people open their browser they lose their ability to think critically or make decisions on their own accord. I’m not quite sure why this is, but it’s not new. I remember being in school and having teachers tell me that there was a limit of internet sources I could cite. Their argument was twofold: Firstly, books are inherently more trustworthy because they’ve been printed (which is total bullshit). Secondly, I would be lazy and just pull up whatever it was that showed up in Google and use that to support my thesis. Of course there is absolutely no reason I couldn’t do the same thing in a library, but that never seemed to register.

At the bottom of all this is a fear of efficiency. We don’t like the idea of people working smarter, not harder. Why do something in 15 minutes that could take three hours? I guess it can feel less ‘human’ to be efficient, but it’s not like a human didn’t build that efficiency tool in the first place.

We are evolving. I would guess our brains are quite literally changing.

And we’re building it as we go . . .

December 5, 2006


  • jeff says:

    wow. made it into the bulk of a post. i think the apocalypse is here. oh no, wait, it’s APOCALYPTO. here’s my view on this: online dating saves people the “work” of going out into the world and actually meeting people. “oh look, she likes boats and pants. I LIKE BOATS AND PANTS. i’ll meet her.” i guess there’s no real problem with this and it’s been going in the print media for decades.

    but what about the person that hates boats and pants? when did we suddenly become a culture afraid to experiment with the unknown or – god forbid – the completely different? when did we start needing all elements of life wrapped up in neat little packages for us? the thrill of life – at least in my opinion – is not in the result but in the process. the on-line dating world eliminates the process because it eliminates human drama, tension, anxiety and fear. there are no more eyes across the room and hair flips. the romantic concept of “love at first sight” has been replaced by “love at first site” (you like that, noah, i know you do…can’t top it…stopping there)

  • Chet Gulland says:

    counterpoint: i think people use dating sites etc with moderation. just because these sites exist, and a lot of people use them, why assume behavior has flipped to the extreme? for the most part, i think people use online dating sites as a tool in their dating, not the be all and end all. they don’t put their social life on hold. they probably work a lot and don’t get out as much as they’d like. they might not have too many friends. they may be shy. maybe they want to meet a graphic designer but don’t have any graphic designer friends. a few times in the past, i’ve used these sites when i wasn’t meeting as many new people as i wanted. i had a great time doing so. to me, there is mostly upside. my regular social life stayed the same – this was bonus. the fact is, trying to meet really interesting people through traditional means is a little frustrating for most people. it’s also inefficient. i know that makes me sound like a robot, but there is real value in social efficiency.

    i think the key to this debate is realizing that it is up to people to use moderation and critical judgement with these tools of efficiency. and i believe for the most part this is happening.

  • Michael Surtees says:

    We don’t like the idea of people working smarter, not harder

    It would be easy for me to say that the statement speaks of a generational gap, but now I believe it has less to do with age than with attitudes. You work with what has gotten you to this day, for some it’s seeking the future unknown while for others they feel comfort with the slow days of the past.

  • Noah Brier says:

    Jeff, I certainly understand what you’re saying, but you make it sound like there’s no human interaction happening. You still have to connect with the person sitting in front of you when you get there. Otherwise they’ll be staring across the bar making eyes with some other guy.

    I don’t think there’s a right or wrong to this, and maybe I overstated it in that way. Like most things, this is about personal preferences and shades of gray.

  • R says:

    what if online dating profiles were limited to 3 sentences?

    when you meet someone at the bar chances are you have 3 sentences (if that) to make an impressiion or vice versa.

    i don’t think technology is a problem or a solution.

    i think that we take the mystery out of online interaction by giving up too much information.

    are you really definied by boats and pants?
    how often are people comfortable dating someone completely different?
    you want someone like you, and you want to find them somehow…

    technology has shown us that ____(social, lonely, friendly) people are indeed ___ but now have tools to alleviate/expand tthis behavior…

  • Noah Brier says:

    That’s a cool idea, R. What are the three things you absolutely want someone to know about you. It kind of reminds me of likemind in a way. We never defined what it meant to be of likemind, yet an amazingly likeminded group showed up. It’s a sort of organized serendipity.

  • Chet Gulland says:

    speaking of organized serendipity i always thought this was interesting:

    “dodgeball.com is a service that focuses on using technology to facilitate serendipity.”

  • R says:

    organized serendipity?
    isn’t that an oxymoron?

    Noah, likemind had the context set-up via your blog but that doesn’t guarantee likeminds…maybe we’re all more likeminded if the right forum is created?

  • range says:

    When I started university in 1995, I was all into forums, mIRC, IM and online dating sites. At one point, in 1999, I decided to uninstall all that software because I found myself spending more time online that with my real life friends. As always, they are tools. If all your friends are online, and if you like it that way, good for you.

    But as internet addiction is something real, I find more satisfaction in meeting people in the real world. That doesn’t mean that meeting people online is bad. I have established interesting relationships and discussions through my blog and others and find this stimulating in its own way. I think what I enjoy about the blog and blogging is that it is not real time, meaning that I can write something at night, post it in the morning, comment during the day.

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