From auto-correct to emojis, passive-aggressive punctuation to accidental selfies, technology has clearly changed the way we communicate. A new survey from dating app Plenty of Fish suggests that it’s also affecting our romantic lives. In fact, according to the survey, the biggest dating turn-off today isn’t being rude or talking about your exes: it’s being glued to your phone.
Plenty of Fish commissioned the survey to gain insight on the more than one billion conversations that have happened on the app to-date. The 2,000 people surveyed were single, spanning all genders and ranging from age 18 to 70 and up.
Sixty-one percent of people surveyed agreed technology has changed our ability to have “meaningful, face-to-face conversation,” according to the press release. The survey offers three main reasons why this is the case: tech is distracting, people are always looking at their phones and constantly talking online makes it harder to talk offline (raise your hand if you’ve ever said “LOL” out loud in lieu of actually laughing). Conversation expert Celeste Headlee, brought in by Plenty of Fish to comment on the results, agreed: “The internet is making it difficult for people to have meaningful conversations,” she said in the press release. (You can watch her TED talk on the subject here.)
Not being able to see someone’s face changes the way we respond to them (this Louis C.K. video on the subject sums it up nicely). But the survey goes back to square one, outlining a very 21st century dilemma: what even is a conversation in the digital age? Eighty percent of people surveyed agreed that a phone call counts as a conversation (something Headlee told me, via email, is her preferred method of communicating if technology has to be involved). But while 67 percent of Millennials and 76 percent of Gen Zers (those born between 1995 and 2012) felt texting counted as conversation, only one in four Boomers felt the same way. Also, Boomers were more likely to use email for conversing, while their younger counterparts all opted for text.
All of this means that dating today is a double edged sword: apps and websites can help us turn 50 First Dates into Love Actually, but it can also make meet-cutes seem like a myth. And yet, people still value actual communication: nine out of 10 respondents said that the key to a successful date is not sex, but conversation.
But taking conversation offline is another story: while 87 percent of Gen Zers said they’d rather have a face-to-face conversation with someone they want to date, out of all the generations surveyed, they were the most scared of actually talking to a potential date face-to-face instead of screen-to-screen.
This isn’t just because technology makes it easy to isolate ourselves and avoid other humans like the plague: it’s partly due to relatable and pre-technological concerns like fear of rejection (remember, people feared being turned down long before Tinder existed) or not knowing what to say. The youngsters seem to be faring the worst though, with 60 percent of Gen Z saying they were scared of being rejected by a potential date, the most out of any generation surveyed. The silver lining is that they know they could use some help: 45 percent said they needed tips or techniques to keep a conversation going (compared to 35 percent of Millennials, 25 percent of Gen Xers and 18 percent of Boomers).
Despite technology making it hard to have meaningful conversation—both in person and offline—it can be used as a tool to bring us together and hopefully set the foundation for having a good discussion offline. But if for whatever reason you have to check your email during a date, make sure you apologize in person: Seventy-seven percent of people agreed that the most effective way to say sorry was face-to-face.
Read all of the survey findings here.