Twitter isn’t real life. Or is it? Alexey Guzey has a page on his (rather excellent) website about why you should join Twitter right now, and of the perks people list the most striking to me is how common it is to meet new and interesting people on there, with several men having even met their wives on Twitter! Twitter has even been cited as a stealth dating app!
Which might sound strange at first, but after thinking about it for a bit it strikes me as weird that Twitter or some general social networking service like it is not the all-dominant online dating service. Consider that heavy tweeters (such as yours truly; I speak from experience) blast out a stream of consciousness about every topic under the sun on Twitter, through this data accumulating a profile about themselves that reveals a lot about who they are. In particular, one’s Twitter feed reveals the kind of information that tends to be kept very guarded on dedicated dating sites such as Tinder. Finding someone with vibes you like would seem to be much easier through Twitter!
Twitter has an advantage not only over the dating sites but also over other major social networks; at least according to this piece Instagram is its only serious competitor in terms of strangers following each other being normal and information flowing relatively freely between social circles, as contrasted with the cloisteredness of, say, Facebook.
Twitter is a general social network where it’s normal for strangers to start interacting with each other and where information and conversation about anything ebbs and flows freely. Flirting happens organically and interactions are as open-ended as they are fun. In this Twitter actually closely resembles real-life social interaction in venues where you can meet new people! Now that’s an interesting thought.
Another interesting thought is that as you attract followers, especially “moots” (you follow them and they follow you), you also accumulates a whole pool of potential acquaintances, friends, and dates, a pool that’s already filtered for their interest in you. This actually helps a lot; one secret about human nature is that most of us actually suck at unstructured and uncompensated socializing with random people, which has become the all-dominant norm and expectation of people over the generations, an expectation that relatively few people can meet. Even those who can meet it, such as professional high-class escorts, still do better when there’s some kind of plan for each meeting than they do bumbling around at random, so what chance do the rest of us have?
Hobby groups and the like (which is where all my friends have come from) are so effective for bonding with people because you see them often, you have a go-to topic of conversation, you can just do the activity when conversation gets dull, and you probably already have something in common; the structure acts as both a filter and a lubricant. Twitter and similar social networks function in much the same way in the virtual realm.
None of my Twitter interactions have turned into real-life friendships yet, let alone dates, but the thought has crossed my mind that the one true love for me might just come through Twitter! Not too outlandish, considering I have nearly 3000 followers, growing thanks to my habit of tweeting thousands of times a month. That puts me deep into the top 1% of Twitter users.
New features to make the escalation of online interactions into real-life meetings, be they for friendship, for fun, or for love, can be envisaged for the platform. Such features would add greatly to the social-networking aspect of the service, bringing the physical world in line with the virtual world, converting, in social-relationship terms, atoms to bits. Loneliness, including loneliness in physical crowds or groups, is high and rising in our society; would not interaction with (from each person’s point of view) higher-quality people go a long way toward solving this problem? A service like Twitter is uniquely positioned to help people network in this way.
The Fediverse: taking Twitter to the next Level
Such a network all being under the control of one big corporation isn’t exactly comforting, but we already have Mastodon and the broader Fediverse, a free, open-source, and decentralized answer to Twitter. Ideally “Twitter” wouldn’t be Twitter as we know it at all, but rather the Fediverse, a Fediverse where the bulk of the population participate, to the point where personal websites become the hubs of every person’s social life, both online and offline. Common protocols (like the Fediverse’s ActivityPub) permit information to flow freely across web domains; there’s no technical reason why social networking must take place under a single website. That model is already obsolete; as the 2020s roll on and the Decentralized Web gains momentum that fact will become incfloreasingly obvious.
For privacy and anonymity it would be best if the Fediverse were run over Tor, thus becoming part of the Dark Web, achieving a vast peer-to-peer censorship-resistant social network like we enjoy in physical life but with all the advantages of digital life. Call it the Social Dark Web. New features will enable a seamless transition from online to offline interaction and vice versa.
Futuristic Transportation and the Social Dark Web
Down the road, hyper-mobility will be a thing; there’s no technical reason why we couldn’t just flit on spaceplanes between any two points on the Earth, meaning there’s no particular reason why any trip has to take more than a couple hours. Aside from engineering challenges, of course, but in the fullness of time those tend to be solved. So the day will come when we’ll have cheap private travel to anywhere, opening up the entire world to practical commuting distance. Not just for business, but also for pleasure, which includes people you meet over the Internet. So in the future if you met someone on the other side of the world online you two could easily form an offline relationship.
Such relationships will compound into close-knit friend groups, which will coalesce over time into futuristic answers to the wandering tribes of old. If you can easily travel anywhere, why settle for your existing neighbors when you could just make your closest online buddies your neighbors instead, by traveling with them constantly, roaming the world in an endless journey? Marriages and births within these groups will transform them from roving bands to true tribes, some perhaps rising to the level of ethnogenesis. These, rather than nation-states, or even city-states, will be the dominant mode of social organization in the future.
Introducing Money into the Equation…or did it ever leave?
All this, of course, will be run on peer-to-peer digital cash, i.e. cryptocurrency, the censorship-resistant form of money. After all, somebody’s gotta pay for all those servers, and under this kind of crypto-anarchy it’s certainly not going to be a big corporation with the government breathing down its neck.
Such money will also make it impossible to censor one of the most effective ways of encouraging social interaction: paying people to do it. Companionship for hire, especially of the sexual variety, has always been a thriving business. Usually men pay for the company of women, an experience that, interestingly, tends to be much better than conventional dating for both parties. It’s even more interesting when one contrasts the continued ease and robustness of hiring escorts with the infamous and ever-escalating difficulty of conventional dating. I can’t help but wonder if an inflection point is coming when directly paying people you like for dates with straightforward negotiation about what each party wants will become the primary way people do it!
Not nearly as weird as one might think; a lot of social relationships right now are maintained through the exchange of money, even if only indirectly. If you see a hairdresser, a massage therapist, a consultant, a coach, an instructor, a trainer, a teacher, or any other kind of service worker on a one-on-one basis frequently, all the while chatting them up and building a genuine connection, then congratulations: you’ve essentially bought a friend and are paying for their companionship by the hour! And this isn’t just a feature of modern capitalism; how many domestic servants were deeply ensconced in the rich social web of aristocratic families and vice versa, yet wouldn’t be there if they weren’t paid for their time?
The prevalence of such relationships indicates that meeting people without paying them for their time isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. As I’ve said earlier, most people actually suck at unstructured, uncompensated social interaction with random people. A firm structure, a tight filter, and good money make socializing and dating far easier, and for most people are the only way they’ll ever have a truly rich social or romantic life, yet all of these elements are quite counter-cultural.
This is probably the direct cause of the much-discussed rise of loneliness in modern societies and cultures; we expect people to socialize without these elements, when the truth is that’s just not realistic and never has been. If we stop pretending it is and let the unreasonable expectations of modern social life collapse in on itself, we’ll experience its replacement with more straightforward means of companionship as a blessing in disguise. Perhaps the only way out is through. Modern and near-future information technologies, such as the Social Dark Web or even our very own Twitter, will facilitate this transformation.
So the primary form of social and sexual interaction, up to and including the dates that turn into serious relationships and marriages, being to pay for (or be paid for) it through the Dark Web might sound like some kind of cold-blooded cyberpunk dystopia, but it may be the most likely future, and, when one thinks about it a bit, probably a much better future to boot. After all, some people might balk at Marriage 3.0 but I suspect they’d start to really like it after they got used to it for a while. So will it be with the crypto-anarchic future of dating and friendship.