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Sociology Professor Michael Ryan examines the growing popularity of online dating

Finding Love Online: A Growing Trend?

Online dating seems to be everywhere. From classic websites like Match.com or OkCupid to new mobile apps like Tinder, there are more ways now than ever to find love online.

Why the growing trend? According to Michael Ryan, assistant professor of sociology, one reason could be society’s increasing reliance on technology. “This is part of a larger social evolution, or I would say devolution, toward our lives being completely embedded in technology, and I think our need to plug into technology constantly has leaked over into the dating world,” said Ryan. “If I’m going to order my groceries, play games and talk to people online, then it makes sense that dating would be moving online as well.”

Yet while sites like OkCupid have been matching up singles for years, online dating has become even more popular with the recent advent of mobile apps like Tinder, which alone boasts more than 10 million active users daily. These new dating apps may be popular because of the different types of relationships users are looking for, said Ryan. “Whereas OkCupid or Match.com and these other websites seem more about traditional dating, the apps seem more about hooking up,” Ryan noted. 

Pointing to Michel Foucault’s repressive hypothesis, Ryan believes that social context helps explain the popularity of apps like Tinder. “The idea is that the more you try to hold something down, the more you make people curious about it,” Ryan explained. “Take Victorian Era England, for example. We still talk about ‘Victorian Ideals’ as being these repressive sexual ideals, but in reality, there were all sorts of things being discussed at that time more than ever before. Same-sex relationships, prostitution, abortion –– All of these things entered the public discourse.”

Another explanation for the increasing number and types of dating platforms could be niche marketing, Ryan pointed out. “A lot of this is niche marketing, which tends to happen with any kind of consumer good. There’s a general introduction of a consumer good and when people get sick of buying it, they start niche marketing it so they can get people to keep buying it,” he explained. “For example, I’m from Indiana, and when I go home, I see tons of commercials for farmersonly.com, which is just for people who are farmers. This niche marketing is part of the natural evolution of a consumer good that you see happening across the board.”

So, with all of this taken into account, are new technologies like Match.com and Tinder revolutionizing dating in Egypt? According to Ryan, the impact of online dating remains limited for the time being because of barriers to accessibility. “In Egypt, access to the internet is around 30 percent. You'd also have to speak English, of course, since around 80 percent of websites are in English. This means we’re talking about a relatively elite crowd that is dating online,” Ryan explained. “I don’t think online dating’s impact on traditional forms of dating would be strong yet. I’m speculating, but I would say it probably will have an impact in the future as access to the Internet increases.”

While the impact of online dating remains limited for now, Ryan believes it could be more substantial in the future, not only changing the ways we search for love, but also how we think about other societal issues. “I think a study on the Internet and on these dating sites could offer interesting insight into changing notions of sexuality, gender, certainly of dating and relationships, all of those sorts of questions,” he said. “Speculating, I’m not sure we are there yet, due to access issues, but it would be an interesting question to see where online dating could lead.”