DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — What would Cinderella’s story look like in 2015?
In such a modern-day fairytale, our heroine might swap glass slippers for Louboutins, might be invited to the ball via Royal Facebook Messenger.
Two Starbucks-swilling #basicbitches could stand in place of evil stepsisters. Instead of a fairy Godmother, a Tinder profile.
What has become of romance in the age of broadband? William S. Burroughs once observed that “Western man is externalizing himself in the form of gadgets.” By that mark, humanity’s digitization of our human relationships shouldn’t come as a shock, merely just another form of extenuation.
This is love in the age of Google, where a hasty LinkedIn search or Facebook scan reveals more than we ever need to know about a blind date or prospective mate. An entire Rolodex of our significant others, exes and hook-ups can be neatly catalogued across a digital Trapper Keeper. We have a million forms of instant gratification (or dissatisfaction) at our fingertips. We can download, swipe and like our way to enjoyment (or lack thereof).
What a challenge it is to use this technology as a means of appeasing perhaps the oldest human interest: the pursuit of romance and love. We have shifted into the digital what we have done for centuries in the physical: reach out for mutual recognition, fulfillment and pleasure, to know that we are not alone on this journey.
I get to observe these modern mating rituals of the developed world in the fascinating land I call home, the Middle East. It’s here where digital forms of communication provide sometimes the only means of exposure to the opposite sex.
Gone are the days of calling your date up on the phone. Here in Dubai — a country tightly gripped by an absolute monarchy — the vast majority of the people employ VPNs and proxies to use online dating sites, download porn, Snapchat or even use Skype.
Imagine Cinderella forlornly searching the gleaming-yet-emotionless sky rises, hotel bars and social networking sites of the Arabian Gulf for her lost slipper.
In Saudi Arabia, where men and women are still unequivocally segregated, the potential for interaction must become so overt that men drive around with their mobile phone numbers emblazoned on their cars in hopes of attracting potential female suitors to text or phone them. On trips to Riyadh, I’ve witnessed grown men dropping sweet nothings scrawled on napkins onto the tables of women in hotel lobbies and cafes. Just another form of the calling cards of the 1950s.
In the animal kingdom, males typically compete for breeding rights with females who in turn select the best available mate from what is available. If the female is not interested, she may express this lack of desire by simply swatting the male away, the mammal equivalent of swiping left.
So while our technology and our methods have developed, perhaps we as a species still haven’t evolved that much. We have simply found different channels through which to funnel our needs.
Research conducted at Emory University points to love as a bi-product of a biochemical chain of events. In “pair bonding” dopamine is released into the brain, activating some of the same neural circuitry as drugs like cocaine. This leads some scientists to believe love can actually be addictive.
This could be a pedantic way to say, love simply feels good, by whatever means we achieve it. Whether through pick-up lines or Facebook poking, no matter how many restrictions are placed upon us, we will always find ways to do what we have always done in seeking our fix.
It was Burroughs again who wrote that no matter what form you do it in, the result is always the same: addiction. He was speaking about drugs, but his words ring true nevertheless. If you wish to destroy this pyramid of addiction you must start from the bottom up and eliminate the need. But love — as the ultimate drug — offers a prospect so seductive, fulfills a need so primal, that no matter the form there will always be the demand.
After all, Cinderella’s carriage hasn’t reanimated to a pumpkin, and she hasn’t exceeded her broadband allowance just yet.