On a Monday evening SXSW panel—my last official to-do in Austin—Andrea Miller, founder and CEO of YourTango.com hoped to discuss the effects of technology on romantic relationships.
The conversation, aptly titled “The Algorithm Method: Love In The Social Media Age,” featured Buddy Media CEO Mike Lazerow, Tom Miller, YourTango’s general manager (and Andrea’s brother), Elizabeth Bernstein, relationships columnistfor WSJ and Helen Fisher, Ph.D., biological anthropologist and chief scientific advisor for online dating sites Match andChemistry. It opened with a video montage that featured montages of recent tech-enabled sex scandals like Tiger Woods and Anthony Weiner and set an immediate tone: technology is ruining our relationships. We’ve become a society of e-cheaters, and the epidemic is only getting worse.
An easily-understandable premise, but one that Fisher immediately shot down. “There is simply no evidence to prove that technology and social media are causing more cheating,” she said. “There are very clear indicators of cheating within the architecture of the brain, and the human brain has not changed in over 2,000 years. If you’re a cheater, you’re going to cheat. If you don’t meet your ex girlfriend from high school through Facebook and sleep with her, you’re certainly going to find someone else.”
But while there’s no scientific evidence, her panel-mates protested, there’s certainly something to be said for the expanded pool of fishes or the easy access to secret lovers that the web affords. If nothing else, they agreed, technology and social media has certainly made it easier to get caught. After all, look at the recent cases where high-profile men have reached out and touched someone online and saw their personal and professional lives destroyed in the aftermath. Without tech, they asked, how would Anthony Weiner and Tiger Woods share so much of themselves? But more intriguingly, how could such supposedly successful men make such an enormous online fails?
“The human animal has a tremendous desire to share,” she says, that is really hard to fight against. “Thinking long-term and of consequences is relatively new in the development of the human brain. But the Wieners and the Woods and the Arnold Schwarzeneggers of the world are all high testosterone men, which makes the whole scenario so much worse.” When patients are injected with testosterone, Fisher says, it heightens their thinking about “here and now,” and lessens long-term vision. Testosterone also heightens sex drive and a tendency towards narcissism, which goes a long way to explain the thought process that could lead, say, a senator to post crotch-shots to the web. Short-term thinking plus narcissism equals a public relations disaster.
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