Friday, October 30, 2009

#28 The Cultural Creep of Silicon Valley


Some revolutionary technologies, like the printing press, the bicycle, and the George Foreman grill, do not carry murderous undertones. We assume there may be collateral costs - scriveners go on the dole, a kid scrapes his knee, Michael Scott burns his toe cooking bacon - but none involve rivers of blood or an inanimate object with a homicidal agenda.

Our hunches here are pure intuition but they're also almost always correct since weirdly, some technologies, like some humans, aren't corruptible for purposes of evil, while others, like the Ford Pinto, lawn darts and Richard Nixon, are just waiting to turn on us.

For a long time we've been preoccupied with being attacked by toasters, robots, and television sets but Silicon Valley tech boom has provided a sleeker and more probable set of menaces. The advent and widespread use of the Internet, virtual realities and mobile devices has raised all manner of horrors the media won't shut up about: cyber stalking, identity theft, texting at the wheel, Nigerian princes, etc.)

The fact of our obsessive fear probably reflects the legitimacy of the threats but it's also why we don't really have to worry. Things that have obvious intrinsic value and obvious intrinsic evil, like the Patriot Act, Megan Fox or the Second Amendment, will never ultimately undo us because the drama between the good and the bad is too thrilling for society not to vigilantly monitor and control the dynamic.

What gets us in the end is the nonobvious extrinsic evils. No one really gets eaten by a shark or shot or mutilated by an Internet predator; we get killed by eating too many Sourdough Jacks.

The extrinsic evils of Internet-related technologies - increasing physical separation, shallow communication, shortened attention spans - are, for the most part to most people, psychological nonfactors even though ultimately these are the things that 1) by glacial creep and snowball effect (e.g., twitter shortens attention spans which spawns new technologies to service the ever enlarging market of people with short attention spans) totally reconstruct social behavior and 2) probably alienate us and make us feel unhappy. That is the point of exposure: where the societal superstructure is changing without people noticing. The possibility of a serial killer trolling chat rooms freaks us out but the guy using technology to f*ck you over just a little bit in a novel way - he's the cultural creep.

According to a study at the university of Texas, for example, there is a false degree of intimacy assumed by women who look for love on the Internet. The scientists found that the high frequency and intensity of email communication convinces women to alter their sexual boundaries.

Admittedly this is not a phenomenon isolated to San Francisco (according to most recent estimates, 30% of Americans have used online dating services) but 1) that doesn't mean it's not relevant to WTANGISF and 2) anecdotal evidence suggests that normal people doing things like match.com, craiglist hook-ups or Facebook romance is disproportionately high in the Bay Area, probably because this is where the technology behind it all was invented.

One of the great illusions of the Internet is the proposition that we can understand people more effectively through the fake world of Facebook or match.com than at a bar or a club, a belief which is totally wrong but easy to embrace since an inorganic simulacrum of reality 1) is less emotionally stressful 2) allows more separate occasions of contact (which in real life means something but in virtual reality meaning almost nothing) and 3) is incomplete enough to conceptualize as being better than it actually is.

This is how the cultural creep makes his move and why girls feel falsely intimate with him. He can text an ostensibly personal message to fifteen girls at once, go from married to single by a click of a radio button, and pick up girls at a bar and on match.com at the same time. The limiting factor for the size of a lothario's harem is almost never charm, it's time. It takes time to talk on the phone and actually be in a certain place at a certain time and to create different identities for different women. Modern technology is eroding such transaction costs.

Understand though that the already desperate position of 95% of SF guys is exacerbated by this. A special irony of online dating is that it far more superficial, salacious and sausage-festy than the standard bar environment. Match.com, for example, reported a gender ratio of 60-40% in 2005 and if Match's subsequent silence on the issue and anecdotal evidence is any indication, the ratio now is much much worse. In addition, places like match.com are supposed to connect people based on individuality rather than random physical attraction: their hobbies, cultural tastes, etc. along with a nod or two towards a political persuasion or world view, all these being defining personal attributes and, at the same time, everybody who dates online finds out, qualities no one cares about at all.


A worse and higher level problem is that the population of the online dating pool is almost unlimited, which seems like a good idea but is really
an all-time backfire for men. Chuck Klosterman made the insightful comment that pursuing women already in relationships is strategic because in order to win a single woman's affection you have to be more desirable than every other single guy around "but if you meet a woman who is dating some dude named Mitch ... you merely have to be more desirable than Mitch."

Klosterman here was simply pointing out a loophole in the evolutionary law that women are drawn to the alpha male, the loophole being that alpha maleness is a completely relative concept. Online dating is the logical opposite of Klosterman's tiny loophole. When pursuing a girl at a normal social venue, a bar for example, you have to be the most desirable guy who showed up at that bar at that hour, which, concededly, makes for inauspicious odds, but a site such as match.com is infinitely more competitive, since it lacks any real temporal or geographical parameters. You have to be the most desirable guy on the Internet.

That the cultural creep of Silicon Valley is bad for SF guys, however, doesn't necessarily mean it's bad in the absolute. Robots are evil only if you're not a robot. The question of the matter is less about morality than the nature of choice: are women's romantic preferences founded on out-of-date biological compulsions (that now make women see all men as creeps or losers) or on a deep-seated and unwavering instinct for finding fulfillment, specifically in the make-believe arms of an avatar who says he's not married? The answer, if you live in San Francisco, is yes.

7 comments:

  1. Its not impossible to meet women on the internet, you just have to avoid looking where most people fish (i.e. Craigslist, Match, AmIhotornot). Similarly, somebody who lives out in the Mission wouldn't venture into the Marina to go pick up on chicks.

    The good thing about internet meetups is that with the computer it lowers the inhibition for girls to talk to you who otherwise wouldn't in a face to face situation. Now obviously this is not to say that this desirable to face to face communication (how are you going to fuck on the internet?) but rather should be looked at as a side option in addition to meeting girls in person.

    There's pros and cons to both methods, but if it gets you a hot date or at the very least ass.. why knock it?

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  2. Hmmm...I am the Internet Creep? For the first few years of living in the Bay Area I got almost zero action. Then I registered for three dating sites, took some time to write a carefully worded profile and had some professional head shots done. Now I'm beating them off with a stick. Admittedly "they" are not supermodels, but they're cute, smart, good, giving and game. At the risk of quoting Woody Allen (via Larry David) "Whatever Works). I actually think the premise of this post is flawed. If nerds with decent language skills and the $$$ for headshots can get laid from the internet that's proof that online dating is uniquely adapted to our area - and unsurprisingly popular here.

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  3. i'm not sure if i am genuinely attracted to the alpha male. because i AM the alpha, gorgeously packaged in the form of a girl. and it's not really that i categorize prospective dates as creeps or losers...just people i want to date vs. douche-baguettes. because OTHER girls might like to eat that type of bread.

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  4. @a girl that likes bread: Nicely worded.

    Regarding online dating, I suspect that the proportion of guys doing well with women is very close to that of a bar.

    I'm going to hazard a guess that the skewed numbers provided by Match.com are at least partially due to the fact that, once accounts are made, they never disappear. In a bar, on the other hand, men come and go. The less successful ones arrive, prompty have their hopes dashed and already tiny egos deflated, and leave, citing words like "lame", "sausage-fest", and "stuck-up bitches."

    I do agree with the first poster when he says that online and offline dating require entirely different skill-sets. Maybe even non-overlapping ones.

    Also, reading that lengthy article and writing this response was definitely one of the hardest things I've ever done, with my almost non-existent attention span. For realz.

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  5. This comment has been removed by the author.

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