Postmodernism has painted the culture, media and language of our age in shades of indefinable grey.
Postmodernism has painted the culture, media and language of our age in shades of indefinable grey. Ours is a time of great immeasurability and indefinable weight, a world of structure so intricate that it can no longer be perceived. For those coming of age with avatars in place of friends, it may seem only natural that the ways in which we love should be wrought up in the same digital constructs. The advent of online dating was not nearly as surprising as its apparent social legitimacy in recent years. Once thought to be the last bastion of the desperate, online dating has become yet another expression of postmodern cynicism as a growth industry.
One example of this trend is the online dating site OKCupid, which, as of this writing, boasts 3.5 million users. It is a privately owned venture in which users answer questions about themselves, their ideal partners, and participate in surveys, all of which are required in order to give them access to the full range of matching options. The site is free to use, but like everything, it is not without a cost. The questions which OKCupid users answer no doubt assist the site’s algorithm in matching them with people of similar temperament; however, they also have a far more lucrative purpose. Much like Facebook, OKCupid specializes in a process known as data mining. They entice users to give them valuable demographic information that they likely wouldn’t consider giving to an online survey, census-taker or in some cases, even a close friend. Media conglomerates, advertising firms and corporations will pay vast sums of money for this information, because it is their direct line to the consumer. After all, no one knows how to advertise to a consumer better than the consumers themselves.
This is a model that clearly works for the ownership of OKCupid as well as their advertising interests—but does it work for the consumer? In a brave act of immersion journalism, the author has endeavored to find out. More aptly, in a foolish act of self-confession, the author must confess to having been a member of OKCupid for some time now. Having confessed as much, the author hastens to add that said membership followed the dissolution of a lengthy and meaningful relationship, and was perhaps equal parts self-flagellation and need for affection. Luckily, OKCupid has both of these things on offer.
OKCupid is the dating website for people who don’t use dating websites. The opening paragraphs of many user profiles read like pillow talk from a one-night stand:
“I can’t believe I’m doing this.”
“This is kind of crazy, but whatever.”
“I wouldn’t normally do this kind of thing…”
This tendency toward pre-emptive self-deprecation is important—it distinguishes the passive cynical online dater from the active and open online dater. Yet, in this postmodern landscape it is the passive cynic who plays the most active role in shaping the OKCupid universe. When the cynic makes it okay for their skeptical selves to engage with mass social media, they make it okay for all cynics to follow suit. This is the key element of OKCupid’s popularity amongst the teen and young adult demographic, which is the real secret of their success.
Launched in 2004 by four Harvard students, OKCupid essentially matches users based on a variant of the Meyers-Briggs personality test. The personality questions that users must answer to complete their profile range from queries about the importance of career and family to explorations of one’s sexual fidelity and predisposition toward aberrant sexual behavior.
So, while it may be difficult to determine the prospects of finding a long-term partner on OKCupid, their algorithm seems as though it would be successful in at least one respect. Provided that users complete their survey truthfully, OKCupid is a fantastic place for the modern sexpot to meet his or her ethical slut. If one is inclined toward promiscuous behavior and is forthcoming about this behavior, the amorous algorithm will assign them a high match percentage, thus making them eminently more visible in one another’s match searches.
So, what does this mathematical matchmaker have to gain from putting the young and cynical into heat on a regular basis? The sexual drive has always been a powerful component in advertising, but in helping its users to fulfill that drive, OKCupid may be taking it one step further. The teen and young adult demographic has always been key to advertisers, and yet the Internet age has produced increasingly media-savvy and cynical young consumers. The most cost-effective method of dealing with a cynical audience, it would appear, is to embrace that cynicism. When media conglomerates and corporations attempt to fight or circumvent cynicism, the net result is often an increase in awareness of their machinations, leading to even greater suspicion on behalf of consumers. By providing users with a commodity that cannot be purchased (legally), and allowing them their cynicism, OKCupid ensures that the vast ore of their data mine shall no sooner be stripped bare than the well of postmodern cynicism run dry.