Using a dating app to meet someone is a bit like being Matt Damon in The Martian -- the marvels of modern technology got you here, but now your only chance for survival is your sense of humor and knowledge of potato trivia. Damon made it home, but we're not all NASA-trained botanists. Some of us need more help. Which is why I've come up with the following ideas for apps which would not only get you a date, but also make sure that it goes well. It's the best I could do, short of outfitting Cupid's arrow with a smart-bomb targeting chip.
#5. Asshole Alert
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Most people are awful. The search for love isn't a stroll through cherry blossoms; it's sifting the sewage outflow from an asshole factory. You spend the whole first date trying to find out if your companion's a jerk while they try to stop you from finding out if they're a jerk, and vice versa. This romantic maskirovka turns first dates into romantic cold wars -- hugely expensive wastes of time in which two powers posture about how much they want to screw each other.
While it only takes a right-swipe and a thumb-typed message to meet someone, it takes months to know them, and by that point, you're committed to them out of sheer inertia rather than any human desire. It's the one problem an app could never solve. Unless ...
This app would immediately identify a jerk. Luckily, modern technology makes this more realistic than you might think. The Internet makes it easier to detect assholes by amplifying the hell out of them. Most people aren't imaginative with their profiles when registering for new social websites, so "Asshole Alert" would use their dating profile, or facial recognition from a photo you've taken, to find and scan all their other online accounts. It would then alert you if they contain certain keywords.
"Yeah, I'm not ready for someone that into farm animal role play."
Social media is like a Geiger counter for human toxicity, in that your average asshole doesn't know how to type 140 characters without shrieking about his or her most depraved psychosis. Has your date called a stranger a bitch? Written about ethics in gaming journalism? Do they defend Dawkins? You deserve to know if racial slurs or threats of violence are bubbling away inside them, because after a certain length of time, they're going to spill some on you. This app would avoid more wasted time and bodily fluids than several wars. No reason to spend hours working out if someone is an asshole if they've already volunteered their nights and weekends advertising that to the world.
Just a prognosticatory warning: Even if I don't get the credit, this app is definitely coming (unlike anyone it identifies). And it'll affect everything, because the Internet is the real world + global connection at the speed of light. This is the future. Accept it.
#4. The Conversation Shot Clock
We've all overheard a guy talking his first date to death. The girl gets three words into what she does for a living before he starts explaining it to her, and at that point he might as well be reciting vows of celibacy. A primal urge to display mating worthiness combined with a tragic lack of woolly mammoths to hunt has left him with an insatiable urge to demonstrate expertise in all of existence, which is just one of the many ways our biological programming has betrayed us. Or maybe the girl is outputting her entire mind over a cup of coffee, because the only thing that impresses her more than herself is her ability to explain how impressive she is. Either way, it's the kind of obnoxious tragedy that nearby hipster coffee-swillers can't help live-tweeting about.
The whole point of conversation is getting to know others, and somehow, both these people have missed it. If your part in the conversation could be replaced by a six-inch chunk of silicone, so could your contribution to the rest of the relationship. If you're either of these people, then this app amends it.
The Conversation Shot Clock is the easy fix. Siri and Cortana aren't quite stenographers just yet, but basic differences in vocal frequency would make it easy for phones to track who's been talking, and for how long. The screen could show a colored bar, lighting up if it gets too lopsided, maybe flashing alerts like "It's time to stop making statements and start asking questions, dipshit" while prodding the other person to say something with subtle electric shocks.
This impartial electronic referee makes it easier for everyone. They can't claim that you're "interrupting" when you've only been 10 percent of the conversation so far. It's also worth mentioning that a smartphone which makes us better at talking to each other could silence an entire generation of assholes complaining about "kids these days."
And I haven't even gotten into the prospect of recording stats. Adding sports statistics to dating would make flaws obvious to everyone, and let even the most oblivious asshole work on improving themselves. People could start working on being better dates the same way they unlock video game achievements (like new content for co-op mode). And "able to maintain 50/50 chatter" would be an attractive award on a dating profile. We'd finally be able to apply video game logic to sexual encounters in a way that isn't totally psychotic.
#3. Get It Right
First-date conversation topics should be light but also stimulating. You don't want to go about unloading your deepest anxieties, but you also can't simply recite the current state of the weather. So most first-daters end up talking about current events, like whatever happens to be trending on Twitter. These topics are neutral, topical, and show that you're capable of reacting to outside stimulus. All prime factors for mating! The problem is that your date has read those exact same stories, so if you get them wrong, they'll know, and they'll judge you for it. How do you avoid this? Simple ...
With only a few trending topics each day, a "Get It Right" app could easily identify which ones you and your future makeout partner are yammering about. It could queue up the relevant facts, and alert you when you're getting them wrong. You don't want your first date to demonstrate an inability to remember things you saw on a screen ten minutes ago -- that's practically the only survival skill our species has left.
We can reverse the polarity of Get It Right into Emergency Subject, because now you can say "reverse the polarity" in a dating context without immediately losing that context. (The Internet has been awesome for nerd romance.) Emergency Subject would load one of the day's topical subjects to talk about. (This basically how we use phones with friends already, without the pretense or delay.) The Emergency Subject would be triggered when Get It Right realizes that you're screwing up an existing story, or when Conversation Shot Clock detects too much silence. We already let phones beep and bug us when they're running out of power or memory. The least they can do is help us when we're in the same situations.