Academic journal article Journal of Aesthetics and Culture

To Sort, to Match and to Share: Addressivity in Online Dating Platforms

Academic journal article Journal of Aesthetics and Culture

To Sort, to Match and to Share: Addressivity in Online Dating Platforms

Article excerpt

In early 2017, the popular online dating site OkCupid's homepage featured an illustration of mismatched socks. A striped sock, a polka-dot sock and two plain socks with different-coloured heels hover above a caption that reads: "Our matching algorithm helps you find the right people" (OkCupid n.d.a). OkCupid is an American dating company, launched in 2004, which offers users a free service thanks to advertising revenue, with a paid premium option available for those who do not wish to see the ads. The site specializes in tailoring searches for dates by algorithmically analysing daters' responses to user-generated questions-some of them mandatory, some of them optional. This process generates detailed data-analytic pictures ofusers' traits and preferences. As of 2016, Match Group claimed "59 million active users per month, 4.7 million of whom have paid accounts" (Winterhalter 2016). As I write, the site boasts just under 140,000 active users currently online, with 7.3 million online messages sent per day through the site (OkCupid n.d.b); it touts itself as "the best free dating site on earth" (OkCupid n.d.b). Using socks, it illustrates its mission through what could be described as a softer version of the Aristophanean myth of love. In Aristophanes' famed speech in Plato's Symposium, Zeus fears men's power and cuts them in two. He dooms them to long for and search their other half-their love. In OkCupid's version, the humble sock seeks another half of a milder sort. It seeks simply a match-a shared set of patterns, colours, interests. OkCupid claims it can find matches by compiling as many "socks" (or rather, profiles) as it can, and mechanically sorting them as ingeniously as possible.

To sort and to share: these verbs describe the twinned missions of dating sites and their users, respectively, in OkCupid's sock-myth. The prospective lovers express interests in their profiles such that they might be shared with a "good match"-out there, somewhere. The dating site accelerates serendipity and ups the odds of an auspicious "chance" encounter, by sorting through the pile. Undoubtedly, this arrangement of lived and automated acts of sorting has, at times, profoundly changed personal lives, bringing together people who might fall in love. More ubiquitously, online dating has altered users' means of addressing themselves to prospective matches, understanding themselves as "datable" subjects, speculating on future families and thinking through what a relationship could be.

In constructing scenarios in which users understand the personal qualities and preferences listed on their profiles and in their quiz answers as potentially valuable (in that they might attract dates), online dating platforms act as part of a neoliberal regime of self-appreciation, according to which personal attributes come to be assetized (Feher 2009). Michel Feher, following Foucault's insights in the 1978-79 Birth of Biopolitics lectures (2004, 215-238) but repositioning these to account for the predominance of investment over entrepreneurialism since the 1980s,1 argues that the notion of human capital, particularly as it took shape in Gary Becker's work (1993), is key for understanding the assetization of the self at the heart of the neoliberal condition (2009). Human capital, Feher quips, is "me, as a set of skills and capabilities that is modifed by all that affects me and all that I effect ... Such that everything I earn-be it salary, returns on investments, booty, or favours I may have incurred-can be understood as the return on the human capital that constitutes me" (2009, 26). Indeed, many developments in online ranking, rating, buying, selling, scoring and dating-from new developments in credit scoring (McClanahan 2014; Rosamond 2016) to new means of representing online reputation (Hearn 2010)-can be seen as instantiations of the assetized neoliberal self.

Of course, the personal traits and tendencies proffered in online profiles are not only profitable for those to whom they ostensibly belong but also profitable for companies, such as OkCupid, which operate according to what Shoshana Zuboff has recently termed "surveillance capitalism" (2015): an emergent regime of accumulation according to which companies extract profit from collecting data, analysing user habits, personalizing services and intervening in behaviour. …

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