In a rapidly changing world that is becoming dominated by technology, the concept of love and relationships is an important topic.

It’s Valentines Day, the most disappointing day of the year. Right now, people all over the country are running around looking for flowers, chocolates, or cards for their significant others.

It’s a day of awkward confessions, deep connections, and spectacular disappointments. All in the name of love.

Love is weird. It is something that dominates every single aspect of our lives and to even define it is difficult. You can love your partner, but that’s a different love to the one you have for your family. You can also love your friends, but that’s definitely a different love to the one that you have for that bagel store downtown.

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To define love is difficult, but I think it’s also necessary to do so before we discuss it any further.

For now, I’ll say that it’s a feeling of deep affection or connection with another person, group, or thing. This affection can often be all-consuming, so in a world that is consumed by technology, where does their relationship stand? Is technology good for love? Or does it just complicate everything? I think, as is often the case, it depends on the individual.

To really dive into this relationship, I think it’s a good idea to dive into the extremes first, just to see how far the interaction and development of love and technology can really go.

Japan: The Island That Love Confused

In the past century or so, Japan has gone through one of the most dramatic socio-economic changes of any country in history. It has changed from a relatively feudal and agricultural society, to an imperial war machine and, finally, to the Japan of today. As a work-obsessed, love devoid, and tech-driven nation, Japan is going through some of the most unique changes of any country on the planet.

As of 2015, only 23% of men and 14% of women in Japan were married by the age of 50. This is a surprising statistic, which is even more surprising when you look at the statistics of Japan in 1970, where only 1% of men and 3% of women were unmarried by the same age.

As of 2015, only 23% of men and 14% of women in Japan were married by the age of 50 #happyvalentinesdayClick To Tweet

This raises the question of why Japanese people have chosen to no longer marry. Much of it is due to financial constraints. Many people in Japan no longer have the time or the money to manage or fund a relationship at all.

It also may have a societal cause as love, affection, and relationships have been heavily sidelined in the work-centric world of Japan. In the Land of the Rising Sun, profit, productivity, and commitment to business is everything.

So does that mean that love is dead in Japan? Of course not, it just means it’s taken on another form. Instead of having long-term relationships or going through all the effort of finding a soulmate, many Japanese people take advantage of new “companionship” services.

This isn’t as lewd as you would think. In fact, the affection and adoration business is booming in Japan right now.

It’s extremely common for both men and women to hire a partner for the night to take them out on a date, go to the movies, or even just cuddle them in specially built “cuddle cafes”.

In short, conventional and more archaic versions of love and affection are beginning to ebb away in Japan, but is this due to technology? Or is due to social pressures? Japan has the same technology as every other developed country, it is only its relationship with this technology that is changing.

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Japan has a difficult and strained relationship with technology. It is likely that this is due to its rapidly developing and previously violent relationship with technology.

Over time, this has made it difficult for many to fully adapt and separate the virtual world from the natural world. It’s becoming so endemic within Japanese society for people to withdraw into this virtual world that there’s even a word for it: Hikkikomori.

Along with cuddle cafes and boyfriends-for-hire, Japan is also one of the biggest hubs for virtual partnerships and online relationships. Younger Japanese people, particularly men, fail to find time for love in the real world. As a result, they are increasingly turning to the Internet and software for love, attention, and affection.

Can a person truly love a program? Can this even be defined as love? Or just an obsession? This is a question which is going to become a huge issue over the next few years as online companions, chatbots, and virtual partners become more widespread and accepted.

In relation to love, it can be seen that technology in Japan has had a drastic effect on relationships, society, and the concept of love as a whole. However, is this a symptom or a cause of this change?

Think of Japan in the 1950s, an occupied nation struggling to rebuild not only every city in its nation, but also its own national identity.

With the heavy influence of the United States, the complex, intricate, and powerful nature of the Japanese cultural identity, and the enormous advances in technology, society, and economics, is it any wonder that Japan is going through such drastic and unique changes?

This is just a study of one country’s relationship with love and technology, but it helps when discussing other developments in the role of love in the modern world. Particularly those that are heavily dependent on technology.

Long Distance Relationships

In Japan’s relationship with love and technology, we’ve seen where things can go askew. Many people believe that technology has confused and diverted away from the idea of traditional love.

However, if we look at different forms of relationships, it’s clear to see that this isn’t exactly the case. The best example of this is long distance relationships.

Before the advent of the Internet, a relationship separated by country, state, or even town meant days or even weeks without proper communication. Even when long-distance calling was an option, it was very expensive. If your partner decided to leave the country, often your only choice was to end the relationship or go with them.

valentines Couple kissing through phones
Allies Interactive

Today, however, that is no longer the case.

It is now easier than ever to maintain a long distance relationship, and that’s speaking from experience. At the time of writing of this article, I’ve been in a relationship with my girlfriend for four years. Of those four years, we’ve spent two of them in separate countries.

During all that time, it was technology which helped to keep us together. Apps like Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp along with programs like Skype made it easy to stay in contact. For months, it was like we were traveling around in one another’s pocket–always just a few clicks away. Twenty years ago, that level of connection and conversation would have been impossible.

Naturally, nothing can substitute being in the same room as your partner. Yet, technology has made it easier than ever for couples to manage long distance relationships for months or even years at a time. I have several friends with partners living on other continents. I even have a few friends who met their significant other online.

In a world where there is an app for everything, naturally there are countless products and services available for couples in long distance relationships. The distance between you and your significant other has never been less of an issue.

Not only is technology making it easier for couples to stay together, it is also making it easier than ever for couples to meet. It is becoming increasingly normal for people to meet online, especially on apps such as Tinder or online dating sites like Match.com.

Some of these sites may seem a little daunting or overwhelming due to the sheer size of users on these platforms. Just remember that these sites have spent tens of millions of dollars on creating the most effective and efficient matchmaking algorithms to find you the perfect partner.

However, if you feel like that might be too much effort, you could always just hack their system.  

Online dating sites are no longer just a niche market in our society. In 2017, one in four couples who got married reportedly met online. This is an enormous difference in numbers even from 2015 when only 5% of couples reportedly met online. It seems that the trend is set for people to find love online rather than in the real world.

When you think about it, this makes a lot of sense. It is far easier to find a potential soulmate online, particularly on dating sites, than just aimlessly wandering the streets looking for some sort of connection in the eyes of a stranger.

marital status chart
“(A) Marital status among the 19,131 (unweighted) respondents. (B) Meeting venue. (C) Offline meeting site. 21.66% of the respondents who met their spouse offline met through work, 19.06% through friends, 10.97% at school, 6.77% through family, 8.73% at a bar/club, 4.09% at a place of worship, 9.99% at a social gathering, 7.57% grew up together, 2.66% met on a blind date, and 8.51% met through “other” venues. (D) Online meeting site. Of the respondents who met their spouse online, 4.64% met through instant messaging, 2.04% through e-mail, 9.51% in a chat room, 1.89% through a discussion group/posting board, 20.87% through social network, 2.13% in a virtual world, 3.59% on a multiplayer game site, 6.18% in an online community, 1.59% on a message/blog site, 45.01% through an online dating site, and 2.51% met through “other” online venues. (E) Online dating site. Of the 45.01% who met through an online dating site, 25.04% met on eHarmony, 24.34% on Match, 7.21% on Yahoo, 5.71% on Plenty of Fish (POF), 24.74% were spread in smaller numbers (<100) across the remaining 14 dating sites specified in the survey (labeled hereafter as “small”), and 13.09% met on a dating site they specified as “other.”” | Pnas.org

Statistically, couples who meet online are not only more likely to stay together for longer, they are also more likely to be happy in their relationships.

It seems that the future of love is firmly in the hands of technology and that it is certainly one of the most helpful ways for all of us to find our perfect partner.

The Future of Love

Love is one of the most powerful and endemic forces in our lives. It has the potential to bind people together in a way that no other motivation can. Within every society on the globe, love is always present. As technology slowly becomes more intrinsic to the makeup of our social fabric, its effect on love is only going to become stronger and more influential.

On Valentines Day, take a moment to think for yourself how technology has affected the relationships you have. Like many things, technology has the ability to harbor growth and celebration in love, but it also has the ability to confuse and distort.

In the future, it’s likely that our online presences will become the most important social vessels for us finding love. They will be vital not only for maintaining a relationship with your partner but also through friendships and other social connections. With this, it’s important to celebrate this love and not to lessen it due to it being “strange” or “different”.

Technology may be making it easier than ever for us to communicate with one another, but can it ever replace being with someone in person?

A study performed by the City University of Hong Kong showed that online communication in conjunction with real-life in interaction actually strengthens a relationship rather than damaging it. However, when given the choice, I’m sure we would all prefer to speak with our significant other in person rather than online. You just can’t replace reality.

In all, often technology doesn’t alter our love for one another, often it’s love that alters the technology we use. Love is constant, and it’s unlikely that technology is going to change that. If you have the time, here is a TED talk about the concept from Helen Fisher.

If you’re alone this Valentines Day, try setting up an online dating profile of your own. If you’ve already done that, maybe it might be time to take a look at those virtual partners that are taking Japan by storm. Love is ever-present, it’s up to you what you do with it. Although love is the greatest aspect of our society, thankfully this day only comes once a year.

Why do you think technology is good for love? Or, why do you think it is detrimental?

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