Take sex first. Kaufmann argues that in the new world of speed dating, online dating and social networking, the overwhelming idea is to have short, sharp engagements that involve minimal commitment and maximal pleasure. In this, he follows the Leeds-based sociologist Zygmunt Bauman, who proposed the metaphor of “liquid love” to characterise how we form connections in the digital age. It’s easier to break with a Facebook friend than a real friend; the work of a split second to delete a mobile-phone contact.
In his 2003 book Liquid Love, Bauman wrote that we “liquid moderns” cannot commit to relationships and have few kinship ties. We incessantly have to use our skills, wits and dedication to create provisional bonds that are loose enough to stop suffocation, but tight enough to give a needed sense of security now that the traditional sources of solace (family, career, loving relationships) are less reliable than ever. And online dating offers just such chances for us to have fast and furious sexual relationships in which commitment is a no-no and yet quantity and quality can be positively rather than inversely related.
After a while, Kaufmann has found, those who use online dating sites become disillusioned. “The game can be fun for a while. But all-pervasive cynicism and utilitarianism eventually sicken anyone who has any sense of human decency. When the players become too cold and detached, nothing good can come of it.” Everywhere on dating sites, Kaufmann finds people upset by the unsatisfactorily chilly sex dates that they have brokered. He also comes across online addicts who can’t move from digital flirting to real dates and others shocked that websites, which they had sought out as refuges from the judgmental cattle-market of real-life interactions, are just as cruel and unforgiving – perhaps more so.