Dan Slater asks whether online dating leads us to value our relationships less and whether that is a problem.I agree that it's a problem, but it isn't the only problem.Or rather, it's just a small part of a bigger problem with online dating.And the problem isn't really just a problem with online dating—it's a problem that extrudes from online markets in general: They lack sufficient friction, and paradoxically this is not a good thing.A frictionless market is one that puts together buyer and seller without transaction costs.In the real world there is no such thing as a frictionless market, but some markets have more friction than others.Online markets reduce friction drastically in that they make the shopping part laughably easy.Let me illustrate this point with an example that has nothing to do with dating.
I collected certain kinds of 19th-century postal history (mailed envelopes) and I used to enjoy travelling from dealer to dealer digging through bins of musty postal history looking for the items that I collected. Collecting postal history has gone from a labor of seeking out interesting shops and sales and digging through musty boxes to one of logging on to e Bay, typing in a search request (19th-century postal history), and clicking on whatever envelope covers catch my eye. Now I realize that the economic language of frictionless markets isn't very romantic, but the fact is that the dating game is a kind of market whether we want to admit it or not.The search process has for all practical purposes become frictionless, and the net result is that it just isn't fun anymore. Finding a partner used to be expensive, and the market was inefficient.If you lived in a large city, there were always people looking for partners, but the problem was how to find them.Pick-up bars were imperfect markets to say the very least.Now you go online, select a partner, and you are immediately dating someone who is at least interested in you.Of course online dating is still work, but the emotional labor and risk of failure has been significantly reduced.