After dating apps, is the future of dating in virtual worlds?
Presented as the future of the internet and social media, the metaverse intends to revolutionize the codes, and in particular that of dating. Like dating sites and then dating apps ten years ago, are our seduction habits about to migrate to virtual worlds?
For more than two years, the covid-19 pandemic has forced the whole world to adapt its habits to a hitherto unprecedented situation. Teleworking has imposed itself as a new norm among employees, and to flirt, it was also necessary to resolve to date on line. Sales of sex toys have exploded, and dating apps have seen their audience soar with each new lockdown. At the same time, the platforms also had to adapt their functionalities to the health situation, for example by making video meetings and voice exchanges possible. So many novelties intended to diversify the online dating market, at a time when the needs of singles were largely upset.
It’s the summer of 2022, and the world is almost back to normal. The confinements seem far behind us, and the idea of testing positive no longer seems as dramatic as it did a few months ago. However, we must face the facts: covid-19 has upset our love codes, and the return to normality excites as much as it worries. After two years of forced tele-dating, “users especially want to take revenge on a period when they suffered a lot”, analyzes Karima Ben Abdelmalek, CEO of the happn platform. “It’s not that they are against virtual dates or the metaverse, it’s just that they want to meet in person.”.
The virtual is also real life
The idea of meeting in the metaverse looks like the synopsis of an episode of black-mirror. Yet with the emergence of virtual worlds and the promises of Mark Zuckerberg, it also seems increasingly tangible. We have to face the facts: just 15 years ago, dating apps were a UFO among single people. In addition to suffering from a good number of prejudices, the latter were rather intended for specific groups of users, seeking discretion or particular affinities. Today, the majority of singles have already taken the plunge, if only to try.
If dating sites have established themselves as a norm in the modern love landscape, could the metaverse follow the same path? Not so sure: According to a recent survey by happn, 64% of French men and women are reluctant to have a virtual first date. However, and like dating apps, this step would only be the first before a very real meeting, recalls Karima Ben Abdelmalek: “Technologies are important because they make life easier for everyone. But you have to use them intelligently, as a first step before meeting. We are not talking about two separate worlds. You can be present both online and in real life. Our objective is precisely to bring these two aspects together.“.
The love limits of the metaverse
Obviously, the metaverse raises several ethical and safety issues. In recent months, cases of attempted rape and sexual assault have multiplied. From there to erecting virtual worlds into zones of lawlessness where everything is permitted? “What you have to remember is that the problems of the metaverse are the same as in real life” analyzes Karima Ben Abdelmalek. “The law will adapt to this new framework, there will quickly be answers to fight against these abuses”.
As with comics, video games, and social media before it, the metaverse suffers from many prejudices. A largely European-centric perception recalls Karima Ben Abdelmalek: in India, more than half of single women are in favor of a first date in virtual worlds, reports the happn survey. “The metaverse is much more accepted because it brings a security aspect, which in India is considered particularly important. Virtual dating helps create a bond, while fostering an environment of trust before meeting in real life”.
Behind its (video)ludic aspect, the metaverse does not however escape its responsibilities. A few months just after their deployment for the general public, virtual worlds are already recording the first cases of harassment and sexual assault. An inevitable moral and legal shift, which requires a precise legal framework, believes Karima Ben Abdelmalek: “The challenge for dating applications and the metaverse will be to put in place tools that will make it possible to report inappropriate behavior and to protect themselves.”. As in real life, responsibilities exist in the metaverse: “There are exactly the same issues in the metaverse as in real life. The challenge will be to adapt legally speaking”.
Despite the many legal and ethical questions posed by the emergence of the metaverse, Karima Ben Abdelmalek wants to be confident. This is not the first time that our love and social codes have been turned upside down by digital : “When the Internet arrived, then later the social networks, we had the impression that it was a lawless zone, but the platforms had to take responsibility little by little, there is a whole legal framework that s is built around these new habits”. An adaptation that intends to reproduce itself with the arrival of the metaverse.
Especially since under its Wild West airs, the metaverse also allows certain advantages in the field of love. In addition to saving time for singles, virtual dates also offer a sense of security that is increasingly appreciated by singles. “Our goal is to bring our users back to real relationships”, recalls Karima Ben Abdelmalek. “But our priority is above all to meet a need. If some Internet users are not against online dating, we must be able to offer them this possibility“.
From there to imagine that in 10 years, the metaverse will be self-sufficient to weave friendly and loving ties ? Not sure. Rather than opposing virtual and real, virtual meetings are essential above all as a means of respond to a user’s desire at a given moment. Far from “Tamagotchi babies” predicted by Catriona Campbell, who believes that the future of parenthood will be in the metaverse, the romantic relationships of tomorrow could integrate virtual worlds as a additional communication tool, like calls or instant messaging platforms. “For me, there is only one world and a multitude of ways to meet”, concludes Karima Ben Abdelmalek. “The main thing is that everyone gets something out of it”.
Finally, the future of dating could look like this: an open world, which transcends the borders of the real and the virtual to allow everyone to find their place. In this exercise, AI could also play a decisive role, by further refining the selection criteria for dating applications. Provided of course to ensure that the technology is used within an ethical and regulated framework.