Valentine’s day in the modern world

St Valentine’s day caught our household by surprise this morning. My daughter, the only family member who shows even a flicker of interest, loves what we call “Balance-time day” because it comes with free license to generate and dispense cards. And nothing is as important as making and giving cards.

Rather than buy in to saccharine cards, over-priced bouquets and chock-full restaurants on a school night, the rest of the family like to bunker down and wait for the red, white and pink tide to subside. Fair to say, we’d rather submit to an hour-long concert by a community recorder ensemble, including improvisations and a piece the ensemble wrote themselves. Not that that is an option this year.

But I’ve been wondering: does the practice of secret admirers sending cards to one another exist anymore, outside the craft-intensive world of grade school? Particularly as I’m currently researching how the internet is changing the ways in which people meet and find one another for romance, sex, marriage or more transactional arrangements.

Last week’s column about the Facebook app Bang with Friends is now far and away the most read piece I have written for The Conversation. I’m sure that is because of the high-level conceptual discussion of how any new technology shifts the balance of power in the dating and mating game. Continue reading Valentine’s day in the modern world

Better than sext? The new Facebook app that could change the mating market

I’m intrigued. And horrified. And curious. And incredulous.

Twitter, that lolly-bag of random ideas, just led me to a story on the website of Cosmopolitan magazine about a new FaceBook app called “Bang with Friends”.

Catchy.

Think I might go back to Scrabble.

According to Cosmo:

The way it works is you sign into the website using your Facebook profile, and then you anonymously register interest in, erm, banging your contacts. You actually click a button called “down to bang” for the guys you’re digging – slightly creepy, but hey, it’s better than a wall post expressing your intentions. If the guy(s) you pick haven’t pushed the button for you too, thus aren’t interested, then your crush remains a secret. But, if you did make their cut, then you are both made aware, in fact the “down to bang” button will change to “awaiting bang”…yep, there’s no skirting around the issue here.

For those who need to know – How to Bang http://bangwithfriends.com/fuck/how

I’m sure the delectable balance of intrigue and horror will propel many a media story about this new app and let slip an avalanche of moralising. I don’t really want to moralise here myself. All the important stuff can still be boiled down to two words:

Consenting Adults.

The way people find each other for romance and for sex has been changing ever since there first were people. The pace of change accelerates steadily, as economies and social institutions and communication technologies change. And the self-appointed gatekeepers of sex have exploded in “moral” outrage at every step along the way.

I don’t think of myself as old, but the world of sex and relationships that young people today seem to inhabit is not a world I recognise. Mobile phones, and the internet have revolutionised the business of finding one another and establishing both interest and rapport. At the risk of revealing my inner creep, I certainly wish there had been more of this stuff around when I was younger.

But one of my main research interests is sex, and especially the different interests that often generate conflict. This conflict simmers even between consenting adults who use protection and like each other – both in Facebookland and in real life (which I am told I can abbreviate IRL). And any device that changes the mating market can be used to tilt the balance in favour of one party over another.

Hell, why did these “university aged men” invent Bang with Friends other than to get more roots? And why, for that matter, did Zuckerberg (and accomplices) invent Facebook?

Bang with Friends opens up a world of awkward. How do you proceed once you get the “awaiting bang” all clear? And if someone is “good to bang”, then how do all the old-fashioned niceties that surround consent get dealt with?

Most of all, what kind of deception can we expect and anticipate?

As Conversation columnist Lauren Rosewarne put it, in another context:

People go online and pretend they are somebody else all the time. People we know in real life demonstrate all kinds of delusion and absurdity on Facebook. Craggy paedophiles routinely go into chat-rooms and pretend to be adolescent skaters and both single and married folks rapidly drop kilos, years and play up the pep constantly on dating websites.

This app doesn’t simply change the market for those folks who are looking for a “bang”. It changes Facebook for everybody else too. If this app catches on with enough people, and not just under-laid 22-year-old straight men, then anybody could find themselves on “down to bang” lists. And how long will it be till those “awaiting bang” notifications get shamed, with screenshots and all?

And that’s the thing about technologies that change the sexual and reproductive landscape: porn, Viagra, AIDS, the pill, safe abortion, amyl nitrate, legalised prostitution, priestly celibacy, IVF, cloning, sexting, daytime ads for ashleymaddison.com, erectile dysfunction drugs, and sham drugs. Anything that I’m allowed to Google at work and you aren’t. Every one of these changes the balance of interests between partners and changes the game, for better or worse. I wouldn’t want to stop progress, but I’m fascinated and at times a little scared about the consequences.

For the meantime Facebook is already a notorious tool for stalking. I can only imagine the incentive to unfriend exes, colleagues and creepy distant acquaintances has suddenly tilted dramatically.

Rob Brooks does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations.

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