On my radar: Digital love


Most parents today believe that their children, especially if they’re digital natives, are losing human connectivity because they’re permanently glued to their digital devices.

However, there’s a counterargument of “digital intimacy” – the notion that technology actually brings people closer together.

This belief is especially prevalent in Generation Z (the 17-and-younger generation), which believes that online relationships are just as important as offline friendships, and if you delve into the bottomless pit that is your smartphone’s app store, you’ll find many ways to connect, establish and maintain a relationship, digitally.

Take, for example, a wedding that was recently beamed live via the video app Periscope. This very public, social-media wedding was the culmination of a relationship that began on Twitter and got serious on Skype. It’s a case study for the concept of digital intimacy.

The dating apps mushrooming in your app store are becoming more niche, so whatever your culture, religion or hobby, you’ll be able to find a soulmate – or should that be an app-mate?

These differ from brazen, instant hook-up apps like Tinder and Grindr, and offer a more “old-school” matchmaking function, adding a hi-tech spin for some very traditional cultural practices, like the lobola calculator app that was launched last year.

For example, Muzmatch is a dating app exclusively for single Muslims.

Once you’ve created a profile – describing your religious sensibilities and details like whether you have a beard or wear a veil – you are presented with a series of possible matches for consideration. This is when the all-important “wali” feature kicks in (wali is an Arabic word meaning custodian or protector). This feature allows prospective lovebirds to post messages and pictures, which are then vetted by a prescribed guardian.

The app’s creator, Shahzad Younas, a British-Pakistani entrepreneur, wants to help Muslims “choose their own romantic destiny without breaking religious rules”.

Couples in India can now download apps like Shaadi or BharatMatrimony, which give them more say and control in the matchmaking process, sidestepping the traditional routes like family connections, marriage brokers or newspaper ads.

In a similar vein, a new breed of apps like Spritzr, Hitch and Sparkstarter allow friends to play digital matchmaker using various social-media platforms, reducing the awkwardness of an old-school blind date.

But while these matchmaking apps are reinventing tradition, a new wave of seemingly more platonic apps are catering to shared, and sometimes very niche, interests, like Sweatt, which is specifically for fitness fanatics, and Sizzl for bacon lovers.

With Netflix just launched in South Africa, fellow binge viewers can find each other by downloading the TikiTalk app, AKA the “Netflix and Chill” app.

TikiTalk searches by activity, not people. For example, you can choose from group activities like “get brunch” or “Netflix and chill”. The app then shows you other available users in your area, and if you find common ground, a chat window pops up, allowing you to plan a date. A heads up for parents, however. “Netflix and chill” has evolved to become a teenager’s favourite euphemism for having sex: “He said he loves me, but I know he just wants to Netflix and chill.”

If your app does find you a soulmate, technology can also help you take the relationship to the next level, without actual physical contact (the sort of digital intimacy that parents will approve of).

Haptic technology recreates the sense of touch by emitting vibrations. For example, you are able to send someone a physical sensation remotely and, in the case of HaptiHug, an actual hug. The recipient, however, needs to strap on a haptic vest to “feel” the hug, which is not very romantic, but they will at least receive
the hug.

Similarly, the Kissenger – short for “kiss messenger” – is designed for couples in long-distance relationships to kiss via cyberspace.

The Kissenger provides a set of silicone lips for each party at their separate locations. When both parties press their lips into the silicone, they will feel the haptic effect of the kiss. Again, not very romantic, but desperate times call for desperate measures.

Speaking of desperate measures, with the rise and evolution of robotics, futurists now predict that within the next two decades, we’ll probably be having sex
with robots.

Humanoid robots will not only be our domestic helpers and co-workers, but also a new kind of sex worker – “sexbots”. The first one – named Roxxxy – was launched in 2010 by a US company called True Companion.

“She” has synthetic skin and is programmed with artificial intelligence to engage in a basic conversation. The company also offers a male sexbot called Rocky, who is also programmed to engage in pillow talk.

Digital intimacy suddenly seems so much more innocent.

Chang is the founder of Flux Trends. For more trends, visit fluxtrends.com.

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